There has been a timely burst of activity in Washington in recent days. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has advanced a health care package that included legislation to extend health center funding for four years. On the same day, dozens of health center advocates stormed the halls of Congress to demand long-term and robust funding for health centers and their patients before September 30. And, the Administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) reached a tentative deal to increase the budget caps and debt ceiling for two years, meaning that we could see even more legislative activity following the August Congressional recess, which is scheduled to last until after Labor Day.
Moving Health Center Funding Forward in the House Energy & Commerce Committee
As they reviewed and debated 26 separate bills, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D – NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R – OR) turned their attention toward a long-term extension of health center funding. In the span of one week, the two leaders brought together bipartisan support to pass H.R. 2328, the Reauthorizing and Extending America’s Community Health (REACH) Act, out of the Health Subcommittee and through the full Energy and Commerce Committee. If passed into law, the REACH Act would provide a critical four-year extension of funding for Community Health Centers at $4 billion/year, the National Health Service Corps at $310 million/year, and the Teaching Health Center program at $126.5 million/year. This bill number may look familiar – the Committee substituted the text of the CHIME Act with the new bill. Different bill but the same number!
In addition to key primary care programs, the REACH Act also has provisions related to extending funding for key Medicaid and Medicare programs, stopping surprise medical bills, and providing additional Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the other territories. The bill now awaits a vote on the floor of the House.
During the markup, several Members of Congress spoke passionately about the importance of providing health centers with a longer extension and an increase in funding. Months of bipartisan work in Congress have paid off in terms of an agreement on a host of health care provisions which puts health center funding on the path to firmer footing in the long run. As it stands today, committees with jurisdiction over health care issues in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed bills that respectively include four years of level funding ($4 billion/year) and five years of level funding ($4 billion/year) for health centers.
We are grateful for all of Congress’ efforts to date, moving us in the direction of passing a longer extension of funding for health centers before the September 30th deadline. In comparison to where we were just two years ago, health centers are in really good shape! NACHC will continue to work with Members of Congress and advocates throughout the country over the next several weeks to strive for as much as possible for as long as possible to help health centers keep up with growing demand for new sites, more services, and additional providers.
Taking the Health Center Message to Capitol Hill
Almost 50 health center advocates flew to Washington recently to meet with their Senators and Representatives. They discussed the immediate need to pass a long-term extension of the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF). In every single meeting the small yet mighty group of health center leaders pressed for (1) long-term funding for health centers; (2) growth of the Community Health Center Fund so that we can open new sites, hire more staff and providers, and expand services; and (3) passage of an extension bill before September 30. It was clear that support for health centers remains strong on Capitol Hill and around the nation. We also heard excitement and anticipation from Members of Congress about returning home and visiting sites during National Health Center Week 2019 (NHCW). While we were only able to meet with a small group of legislators, now is the perfect time to follow up on your invitations or extend an offer to visit your health center during NHCW.
A big thank you to those advocates who made the trip to DC on short notice – your timely advocacy was important to ensuring that health center funding remains at the top of Congress’s to-do list in the coming weeks! We are in the beginning stages of planning a larger fly-in on September 9-10, so please be on the lookout for more info in the coming weeks.
Finalizing Details On A Bipartisan Budget Deal
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – CA), the lead negotiators representing the White House and Congressional Democrats, respectively, have reached agreement on the broader structure of a two-year deal to increase the government’s borrowing authority and spending levels for agency budgets, also known as budget caps. While there are still details to finalize, including how some or all of these items will be paid for, the looming two-year agreement represents major progress in the effort to avoid another government shutdown, breaching the debt ceiling, defaulting on the government’s debt, or making $126 billion in immediate cuts due to mandatory spending caps known as sequestration. Previous increases in spending caps have allowed Congressional leaders to allocate new dollars for important programs funded through the appropriations process, and the current negotiations also bode well for supporters of investing in important health care, education, environmental and other programs. Both sides remain locked in good faith negotiations in an effort to find agreement as soon as possible. Finalizing negotiations on these two provisions would allow leaders in Washington to remove two major items from their to-do list before September 30 – a positive step for other priorities that need to be resolved in September, including our health center funding.
Your Advocacy Matters
In the coming weeks, we need every advocate to stand up and speak out in support of long-term, robust funding for health centers. Now is the time for every Member of Congress to show their support for extending health center funding before the September deadline. Your advocacy and engagement has brought health centers this far and has galvanized recent activity in Congress. We are almost to the finish line and long-term health center funding is in sight. Keep up the great work and look out for more ways that you can encourage Congress to pass long-term health center funding before September 30. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any additional questions and stay tuned to the NACHC blog for timely updates.