By John Sawyer
Last week, a targeted group of health center advocates from across the country came to Washington for quick “fly-in” meetings with key members of the U.S. House of Representatives, with a clear message: as you bring the different house bills together, maintain the investment in Health Center growth. Whether it was lead Blue Dog negotiator Mike Ross (D-AR) House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-CT), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) herself, the message to our advocates was clear: “it’s in.”
So what is “it”, exactly? Well, “it” is the Public Health Investment Fund, a five-year, virtually guaranteed source of funding designed to fuel growth in key federal health programs as insurance is expanded to more people. The fund, which totals some $34 billion, contains an additional $12 billion for Health Centers over the next five years, over and above our current program funding of just over $2 billion annually. Maintaining the fund was at the top of NACHC’s list of priorities for bringing the various House bills together.
This week, it’s expected that both House and Senate leaders may release the text (or at least an outline) of the legislation each chamber will consider during floor debate over the next few weeks. We’ll be checking these for health center priorities, weighing in with leaders, and asking each of you to do the same as the health reform debate moves forward. Making health care reform work for health centers is a matter of preparation, timing, and a broad chorus of voices being heard.
This debate is a long way from over, but have no doubt that our voices are being heard.