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'Lifeline for Millions': Sanders and Warren Urge Congress to Increase Community Health Center Funding Before It Expires Next Month

"Congress must expand—and not allow any cuts to—the comprehensive medical treatment that so many millions of people depend on through community health centers."

A woman watches her daughter get a TB test read at Portland Community Health Center in Portland, Maine. (Photo: John Patriquin/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren teamed up with Rep. Ayanna Pressley on Thursday to lead nearly 90 lawmakers in demanding that Congress extend federal funding for Community Health Centers before it expires next month.

Allowing a lapse in CHC funding would imperil crucial health services for "28 million patients, including over 350,000 veterans, over eight million children, and 1.4 million homeless patients" across the country, the lawmakers warn in a letter (pdf) to congressional leaders.

"We believe that Congress must immediately secure additional funding for these critical public health programs and urge swift action before November 21 to ensure continuous access to medical training and healthcare services for all who need it," the members of Congress write.

To ensure health centers are adequately funded, the lawmakers are calling on Congress to provide a five-year extension of CHC funding in line with legislation introduced in March by Sanders and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Under the Sanders and Clyburn bill, CHCs and the National Health Service Corps would receive a 10 percent increase in funding annually for five years.

"It is no exaggeration to call Community Health Centers a lifeline for millions of Americans," Sanders, who has played a major role in securing funding for CHCs over the past decade, said in a statement on Thursday.

"President Trump and the Republicans tried and failed to destroy the Affordable Care Act in Congress. Now they're in the courts still trying to kick millions off their health care. We are standing together to push back on this relentless assault on people’s basic health," the Vermont senator added. "Congress must expand—and not allow any cuts to—the comprehensive medical treatment that so many millions of people depend on through community health centers."

Read the full letter:

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer:   

We write today to express our strong support for the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), and the funds it provides to Community Health Centers (CHCs) and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). It is essential that these vital programs receive strong and long-term funding at the levels outlined in H.R. 1943/S.692, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act. Additionally, we urge you to provide strong funding levels for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program. We believe that Congress must immediately secure additional funding for these critical public health programs and urge swift action before November 21 to ensure continuous access to medical training and healthcare services for all who need it.     

CHCs, THCGME, and NHSC have long enjoyed bipartisan support and play crucial roles in delivering primary and preventive healthcare to America's most underserved and vulnerable communities. Avoiding a funding lapse is vital for CHCs, which serve 28 million patients, including over 350,000 veterans, over eight million children, and 1.4 million homeless patients, in thousands of rural, urban, and frontier communities nationally. CHCs also employ more than 220,000 people across the country, produce nearly $55 billion in economic activity, and saves our healthcare system more than $24 billion per year. In addition, they help patients access healthy and affordable foods, housing support, and transportation assistance, and they are critical to the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents. They have also been on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, providing substance use disorder and mental health treatment to patients in need.

The 56 Teaching Health Centers around the country, meanwhile, support more than 700 medical residents currently training to provide healthcare services to an estimated one million patients annually in underserved rural and urban communities. Over 80 percent of residents training in a teaching health center did so in a medically underserved or rural community. Additionally, the NHSC places thousands of medical professionals in the highest need areas of our country so they can provide primary medical, dental, and mental and behavioral health services in underserved communities. These scholarships and loan repayment programs allow clinicians to provide care to more than 11 million people across the country. Together, these programs serve as a crucial supply line to meet our nation's growing demand for primary care physicians.

Less than two years ago, Congress voted overwhelmingly to extend and increase funding for these three public health programs as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. Now that the deadline is upon us again, we must act to provide a five-year extension of the Community Health Center, Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education, and National Health Serivce Corps programs. We urge you to provide strong funding increases over time—like those envisioned in H.R. 1943/S.962, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act. This will afford our health centers the predictability and stability they need to train and recruit providers, purchase equipment, expand services available to patients, and plan strategically to meet the current and future needs of patients. 

We appreciate your attention to this matter.

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