by Kaitlin McColgan
Regular readers of Health Centers on the Hill (and other avid health reform-watchers) will recall that last year’s House-passed version of the health reform legislation contained a provision extending Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) coverage to volunteer practitioners in health centers. This expansion, long a priority for health centers, had also been included in the 2008 House-passed version of the Health Centers program reauthorization. Unfortunately, due to the unique health reform process through which only the Senate bill and a later reconciliation bill became law and there was no formal conference agreement, the FTCA for volunteers provision did not make it into law since it had not been in the Senate version of the reform legislation.
Providing health center volunteers with FTCA coverage, a policy change which has been championed on a bipartisan basis by Reps. Gene Green (D-TX) and Tim Murphy (R-PA), would allow health centers to take on volunteer practitioners without having to purchase costly malpractice gap insurance. These volunteer practitioners could significantly improve access to primary and some specialty care for health center patients. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined this issue in a report required by the 2008 Health Centers program reauthorization. GAO found that expanding FTCA coverage to health center volunteers would have a relatively low cost. Citing Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, GAO reported that the cost of this policy change would be $6 million over a 5 year period, or about $1.5 million per year.
On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee unanimously passed H.R. 1745, the Family Health Care Accessibility Act, the FTCA for volunteers stand-alone bill sponsored by Reps. Murphy and Green. The Subcommittee first passed an “Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute” which made some changes to original bill, essentially altering the way through which the FTCA coverage for volunteers would work. NACHC worked with the subcommittee to make improvements to the amendment and we will continue to work with the Full Committee as it prepares to mark-up the bill to ensure the strongest possible bill. Stay tuned for more info on this important bill as we continue to work to see it through the House once again and turn our attention to building support in the Senate.