Washington, D.C. – Serving almost 30 million people, including 1-in-8 children, there’s no question of the importance of our community health centers (CHC). Across the country, community health centers provide high quality health care for vulnerable patients whether or not they’re able to pay for the services. This week we recognize the contributions of health centers, especially now as CHCs are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recognizing the vital role of CHCs as we fight the Invisible Enemy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided more than $1.3 billion to health centers using funding from Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. A month later HHS announced more than half a billion more for community health centers to boost COVID-19 testing. At the time of this announcement, HHS reported that CHCs were doing upwards of 100,000 COVID-19 tests a week. In the United States, more than 65 million tests have been reported with more than 2 million having been done at these health centers.
The pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the mental health of Americans, and community health centers can also offer mental health and substance use disorder services. Last year, almost 8 million mental health patients went to CHCs. Concerned the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the nation’s addiction and overdose crisis, yesterday bipartisan Energy and Commerce Committee leaders asked Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar for more information on the pandemic’s impact on our other ongoing crisis and what actions the federal government should take to help.
In addition to care related to the pandemic, community health centers provide other important services, such as health education, for the communities CHCs serve. Unfortunately, a large portion of the funding for these vital centers is set to expire before the end of the year if Congress fails to act. E&C Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) has been pushing for long-term funding for community health centers to give CHCs more certainty. That’s why it’s included as a provision in the bipartisan, bicameral surprise billing legislation developed by E&C, the House Education and Labor Committee, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. In this agreement, not only will patients be protected from surprise medical bills, community health centers will be funded for five years. This week, as we recognize the contributions CHCs, we urge Congress to provide long-term funding for our community health centers.