By Frank Lewis
In a Letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is urging the prompt release of funding for health centers serving communities in need, including Compass Community Health headquartered in Portsmouth. Brown said applications for funding for eight Ohio Community Health Centers (CHCs) is currently pending at HHS.
“Community Health Centers in Ohio and across the U.S. are critical access points for under-served patients,” Brown said. “Every Ohioan deserves access to care, and allowing these funds to sit at HHS and go unallocated is a disservice to communities in need. HHS should work to promptly award the funding Congress made available for CHCs to the approved, unfunded Ohio applications still pending at the Agency. In doing so, we can help ensure that more Ohioans can make use of the critical primary and preventive care services that CHCs provide.”
In a letter to Secretary Burwell, Brown asked HHS to promptly award remaining fiscal year 2015 funding by granting approval of pending grant applications. Funding for the Community Health Center Fund was first made available through the health law, which boosted funding for community health centers’ primary and preventive care services.
“This bill would allow health care providers to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction to opioids like painkillers and heroin,” Brown told reporters on a Wednesday conference call. “It would allow certain nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide supervised medication-assisted treatment for patients.”
Brown also added the veterans factor to the equation.
“According to a VA study, patients seeking care at VA clinics are nearly twice as likely to die from accidental poisons as the general population outside the VA system,” Brown said. “Opioids are often to blame for these veterans’ deaths. Sometimes these are legal drugs, sometimes illegally prescribed like Oxycontin or Oxycodone and sometimes they are illegal drugs like heroin.”
Brown reminded Burwell in FY2015, the Health Centers Program received a total program funding level of $5.1 billion Including $1.49 billion in discretionary funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and $3.6 billion in mandatory funding from the Community Health Center Fund. He said, if fully utilized, those funds could increase access to care for patients in every state of the country.
“We are very grateful for the efforts of Senator Brown and his staff,” Ed Hughes, CEO of Compass Community Health, Inc., said. “In my opinion, there is no community in the nation more deserving than Scioto County to receive this essential funding to increase access for people to primary health care services. Our community leaders and citizens have worked extremely hard over the past few years to address our poor health indicators and the problems associated with poor health, addiction, smoking, and obesity. The economic future of our community is directly tied to the health and wellness of our workforce.”
Brown said the legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress, in part because of the stability and funding opportunities it provides CHCs. With that stability now in place, he said it is his hope HHS will allocate available funding as soon as possible.
“We urge you to promptly award all of the FY2015 funding made available by Congress so new organizations may gain ‘health center’ status through additional NAP grants and existing health centers can expand their organizations to address demands in their communities,” the letter concluded.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.