Health Center Federal Policy

Secretary Sebelius Testifies before House and Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittees; Pallone-Bilirakis FY2013 House Appropriations Sign-On Letter to Close Friday

As we’ve been saying for a few weeks now, the FY2013 Appropriations process is under way. As you’ll recall from the most recent Health Centers on the Hill blog, Secretary Sebelius testified before both the House and Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittees over a two day period last week. These hearings are the beginning of the annual discretionary appropriations process as the Committees prepare to draft their FY2013 appropriations bills. Our bipartisan appropriations letters are also circulating and the time to contact your Members of Congress is NOW, as outlined below and in our action alerts you’ve hopefully already received.

Secretary Sebelius on the Hill- Members Have Health Center Questions

Secretary Sebelius appeared before the subcommittees to answer questions about the President’s proposed FY2013 budget for HHS. During her opening remarks before the House Subcommittee, the Secretary mentioned Community Health Centers, touching upon planned new access points and the number of patients served as well as the $300 million dollar increase included for the Health Centers program in the President’s budget request. Secretary Sebelius then fielded questions from several members, most notably Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Full Appropriations Committee, who urged the Secretary to continue health center expansion and highlighted the critical role of health centers in providing access in 2014 when health reform’s coverage expansions come online.  Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) seconded Rep. Dicks’ positive comments on health centers and also highlighted health centers as a key to access. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Ranking Member of the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, also noted the important role of health centers in her opening statement. Secretary Sebelius highlighted the high level of bipartisan support for the Health Centers program and deemed the program enormously important in providing high quality primary and preventative care in a cost effective manner. You can read testimony and statements here. This hearing was not televised.

The following day, the Secretary testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS where Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, noted in his remarks his concern for the Health Centers program if the Affordable Care Act is repealed or struck down given the significant reductions in health center base discretionary funding that have occurred and been offset with mandatory funding. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) voiced concerns regarding the Health Centers program’s ability to expand in light of the President’s budget request which aims to hold back $280 million of the $300 million increase available from the mandatory side for FY2013 to offset future shortfalls. Chairman Harkin also noted the need to address the funding cliff the program faces in FY2015 when the mandatory funding is set to end, but stressed the intent of the mandatory Health Center Fund was to expand and open new sites. You can watch footage of the hearing here.

Appropriations Letters Are LIVE- Time to Act

The House
Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee which funds the Health Centers program is still accepting programmatic requests from all Members of the House. The
Subcommittee’s deadline is set for March 20th. Last week, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) began circulating a draft bipartisan sign-on letter indicating support for the Health Centers program to the House Labor-HHS Subcommittee on Appropriations. This letter is a key development that enables House members to publicly show their support for health centers. Congressman Pallone and Congressman Bilirakis are asking that Members sign-on to their letter by Friday, March 16. We encourage all health center advocates to ask their Representatives to lend their support to this letter in the next few days. Advocates should also ask their Representatives to submit a programmatic request for the Health Centers program through the online system.

The bipartisan Senate Dear Colleague letter is also now circulating, led by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and John Boozman (R-AR). The deadline for the Senate letter is March 23rd.

Thanks and stay tuned to Health Centers on the Hill for the latest on the Appropriations process!