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House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Health Centers Reauthorization

On December 4, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on H.R. 1343, the Health Centers Renewal Act. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee approved an identical bill (S. 901) on November 14 (see The Source, 11/16/07).

The Health Centers Renewal Act of 2007 (S. 901) would reauthorize community health centers at $2.189 billion in FY2008, $2.451 billion in FY2009, $2.758 billion in FY2010, $3.116 billion in FY2011, and $3.537 billion in FY2012. Federal health centers last were reauthorized in 2002 (P.L. 107-251); their current authorization expired at the end of FY2006. Community health centers provide care to one of every eight uninsured Americans, one of every four Americans in poverty, and one of every nine rural Americans. They also serve the homeless, migrant farm workers, and reduce health disparities by providing cost-effective preventative care, such as mammograms and Pap smears.

Dennis P. Williams, deputy administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, described the services provided by health centers, including those supported by the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Block Grant: “The MCH Block Grant provides a variety of health services and health education programs. Examples of activities [that] states have reported include: in Kansas, the Coordinated School Health programs provide grants for schools to form school councils and complete the School Health Index. These grants can be used to prevent obesity and encourage physical activity. In Maryland, in 2006, the grants supported 20 of the state’s 24 local health departments’ provision of oral health care, ranging from some preventive services to comprehensive clinical programs, including restorative services. The MCH Block Grant also provides direct services to special needs school-aged children.”

Dr. Williams asked the subcommittee to continue expanding health centers and to adopt President Bush’s Health Center Expansion Initiative, which seeks “to provide a health center in every poor county that lacks a health center site and can support one, thus extending the benefits of health center care to the hardest-to-reach, poorest areas of the country.” Opening health centers in the poorest communities would reduce health disparities by ensuring that low-income and minority patients receive timely access to preventive and primary care services, and by managing chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension more cost-effectively, he said.

“While the health centers program has made historic gains in providing increased access to health care services in medically underserved communities and to medically underserved populations, major challenges still persist,” said Steven Miracle, chief executive officer of Georgia Mountains Health Services. He told the subcommittee that the proposed reauthorization would enable health centers to serve an estimated 30 million Americans by 2015. Mr. Miracle urged the subcommittee to ensure that the reauthorization of health centers continues to “reaffirm the core elements of the program: that health centers are open to all, run and controlled by the community, located in high-need, medically underserved areas, and provide comprehensive primary and preventive services…”

Wilbert Jones, chief executive officer of the Greater Meridian Health Clinic, and Dr. Michael Ehlert, president of American Medical Student Association, also testified.

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