Not only does March 23, 2011 mark the one year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it also marks the first day of the Policy & Issues Forum in Washington, D.C. Thousands of health care leaders gathered from all over country to the opening general session to hear the encouraging and supportive words of long time supporters, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Victoria Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Both speakers delivered powerful speeches speaking to the great work that health centers have accomplished over the past four decades in providing accessible and affordable preventive care to communities — care that lowers health care costs and frees up hospital emergency rooms to care for the seriously ill. “You have been doing this important work for decades and millions of lives have been touched,” she said. “There should be no barriers to keeping people healthy.”
Sebelius also noted the challenges ahead for health centers, including the recent proposed spending cuts to the health center budget that could deny care millions of people and force hundreds of health centers to close. “This will threaten not just the health of our country, but also our prosperity,” she said.
Victoria Kennedy expressed that her late husband and the founding father of Community Health Centers, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, would have been very much present in this ongoing fight for community health centers. She said,
“Health care reform was the cause of his life. He believed that health care for all citizens was a fundamental right and not a priviledge…How I wish we had the lion’s voice right now, roaring on the senate floor.”
The 36th annual national conference is, of course, the largest Washington gathering of federally supported Community Health Centers, which serve more than 23 million patients nationwide. The conference brings together thousands of health center leaders, opinion-makers, policy experts, clinicians and consumers to dialogue on access to affordable health care and the outlook for health care reform.
Several health centers around the country live streamed the Secretary’s address and invited press and public officials to watch, including Piedmont Health Services in Carrboro, N.C., which drew local headlines, including this article in The Daily Tarheel.