LETTER: Support Community Health Centers

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

We write to express our serious concerns about the expiration of funding for HRSA’s Health Center Program more than two months ago.  Congress’ failure to extend this funding has caused service disruptions for the 22 community health centers and their many patients across New Hampshire and Vermont.  We urge you to work in a bipartisan manner to immediately reauthorize this critically important program.

Community health centers provide affordable quality primary health care to more than 27 million Americans, including 260,000 residents in our two states.  Community health centers also provide much-needed oral and dental healthcare, behavioral and mental health services, access to low-cost prescription drugs, substance abuse treatment, nutrition counseling and more.  In rural areas, they are often the only healthcare facilities for many miles, and in urban areas, they often provide services tailored to underserved populations.  Additionally, community health centers provide healthcare to all patients, regardless of their insurance status, religion, nationality, gender or race and ethnicity.

Community health centers are a very cost-effective way to deliver primary healthcare services and treatments.  Ensuring access to reliable primary healthcare not only helps people stay healthy, but also helps ensure that illnesses and diseases—like diabetes and hypertension—are managed so that people do not end up in a hospital emergency room or worse.  This not only helps to protect one’s health, it also helps to save money.  In fact, in just one year, community health centers saved our national health care system nearly $49 billion, including saving an average of $2,371 per Medicaid patient and up to $1,210 per Medicare patient compared to other providers.

And, community health centers are an important component of local economies. Nationally, they employ nearly 190,000 people and generate more than $45 billion in economic activity. In Vermont, health centers contribute more than $178 million to the state’s economy and support 1,605 full time jobs.  In New Hampshire, community health centers employ just over 800 people and treat more than 86,000 patients—more than 2,500 of whom are veterans and 6,700 of whom are homeless.

As you may know, our states have been hit particularly hard [by] the national opioid epidemic.  As we struggle to battle this national catastrophe, we know that we can rely on community health centers as critical partners.  In every state grappling with the opioid epidemic and its devastating consequences, we have witnessed community health centers provide Medication Assisted Treatment, substance abuse and mental health counseling services, and offered those struggling with an addiction with a safe and stigma-free place to get the support that they need, when they need it.  In Vermont, our community health centers are an indispensable component of our “Hub and Spoke” model, which is being replicated throughout the country to improve access to and reduce wait-lists for desperately needed care for those who are battling addiction.

Unless Congress acts soon, community health centers across the country, including New Hampshire and Vermont, will face dramatic cuts, seriously jeopardizing their ability to serve our nation’s most vulnerable people in medically underserved areas.  Our constituents will needlessly suffer from poorer health outcomes, unemployment will rise in communities across the country, our nation’s primary healthcare system will be compromised, and our local economies will be harmed.

Several CEOs of community health centers in Vermont and New Hampshire report that, because of funding uncertainties, staff morale is extremely low.  Some community health centers have implemented hiring freezes and others are finding it difficult to retain existing, much less recruit new, providers.  They say many centers have halted renovation or expansion projects, while others have delayed launching new medical services.  Most disturbing, they say that many patients are concerned that the loss of federal funding will mean that they will no longer have access to affordable health care and will lose their medical homes.

For many years now, the Senate—recognizing the significant value that they bring to every community in every state and U.S. territory—has supported community health centers in a bipartisan manner.  We, therefore, strongly urge you to work on a bipartisan agreement that reauthorizes and funds not only programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Centers.

We are committed to working with you to ensure this funding is restored before the end of the year.

Sincerely,

PATRICK LEAHY,

JEANNE SHAHEEN,

BERNARD SANDERS, &

MARGARET WOOD HASSAN

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