Health Center Federal Policy

Bipartisan Legislation Would Strengthen Health Center Workforce, Expand FTCA Coverage to Volunteers

By: John Sawyer

Last week, Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced legislation that would extend health centers’ current medical malpractice protection under the Federal Tort Claims Act to providers who volunteer their time providing care at the health center. The legislation, S. 2151, is identical to past legislation, the Family Health Care Accessibility Act, which has passed the House in previous sessions of Congress, but not the Senate.

In the House, a similar provision, which would extend the volunteer protection to volunteers at CHCs and certain community-based mental health providers, is part of a much larger package of mental health-related legislation, introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA). The House is expected to begin a more in-depth look at that legislation before the end of the year.

While health center employees have long been covered by FTCA for medical malpractice purposes, health center volunteers have never been eligible for this coverage. This makes the recruiting of volunteers incredibly difficult: the health center often must choose between turning the volunteer away or expending large sums of money on supplemental medical malpractice gap insurance.  If they choose to take on a volunteer, health centers end up devoting resources to insurance that otherwise could have been used to expand the highly cost-effective health center model of care to more patients.

This legislation comes at a moment where major investment have been made health center infrastructure, capacity and operations, but also while major shortages in the primary health care workforce are being felt locally, regionally and nationally. While easing the way for volunteer clinicians to practice in health centers will not, on its own, be enough to solve these workforce challenges, passing this legislation is an important step that would allow health centers to serve more of those in need.

NACHC’s support letter for the legislation can be found here. Look for an action alert from NACHC’s advocacy team in the coming weeks, so you can urge your Senator to sign on to this important bill.