01.29.19

Murray Calls for Long-Term Funding for Critical Primary Care Programs That Serve Communities Nationwide

At HELP hearing, Murray emphasizes impact of funding uncertainty last year on community health centers and the families they serve, touts bipartisan bill to provide stable funding for years to come

 

Community health centers help 27 million patients a year find care close to home

 

Teaching health centers and the National Health Service Corps help support centers and bring medical professionals to practice in underserved areas

 

Murray: “This time last year… community health centers were left waiting without funding, and uncertain when Congress would extend funding for programs that support them and their staff, and give patients access to the care they rely on.”

 

Murray: “I remember all too well the challenges our community health centers were facing a year ago—and I know my colleagues do as well. So I’m hopeful we can come together in a bipartisan way to quickly extend funding for these programs to make sure a year from now—and even five years from now—this kind of crisis doesn’t happen again.”

 

***Watch Senator Murray’s full speech HERE***

 

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered opening remarks at the Committee’s hearing on access to care, community health centers, and health providers in underserved communities. In her remarks, Senator Murray discussed how community health centers play an important role in making sure families across the country can find care they can afford close to home, and shared local stories from Washington state about how centers and health providers were impacted by funding uncertainty last year as they waited for Congress to extend programs that support them. She also highlighted a bipartisan bill she introduced with Senator Alexander to provide long-term funding and stability for these programs and the millions of families they serve, and called on her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work together toward that goal.

 

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s speech:

 

“This time last year, community health centers across the country were forced to cut back hours, staff, and services, and halt planned expansions. Like in Spokane, Washington—where new opioid-addiction treatment services, initiated to combat the opioid epidemic, were jeopardized by the funding freeze. Or on the Olympic Peninsula—where plans to expand behavioral health services were also put on hold. Or in Whatcom County—where they considered canceling construction plans for new medical, dental, and behavioral health care facilities.”

 

“This time last year, community health centers were left wondering how to pay their current staff and attract new professionals. Like in Ferry County—a rural area with fewer than four people per square mile—where the funding uncertainty left a center unable to sign annual contracts for needed medical staff and managers.”

“This time last year, some community health centers had to figure out ways to cover basic but crucial, annual reoccurring expenses, like renewing the leases for their buildings. In Yakima, Washington, clinics in some of our most vulnerable communities were at risk of closing. And it wasn’t just Washington, centers across the country faced these challenges. Elsewhere, a teaching health center closed, meaning the residents there—health care providers who were willing to forgo the draws of an academic hospital, roll up their sleeves, and serve patients and families in communities with severe health professional shortages—faced the harrowing prospect of having to scramble to find a new residency program, and possibly redo a whole year of their residency.”

 

“It’s clear to members on both sides of the aisle we need to do more to provide stability for our communities and the health centers they depend on. So I’m glad Chairman Alexander and I were able to introduce legislation to do just that. While it’s not the bill either one of us would have written on our own, it lays down a clear, bipartisan marker for providing these programs with long-term funding. Our bipartisan bill will provide five years of stable funding for our community health centers, and give them the certainty they need to bring on skilled staff, offer new services, and make sure patients and families across the country are able to find the care they need close to home. It will also extend funding for teaching health centers and the National Health Service Corps—which encourage medical students and doctors to work in underserved communities—and will fund at least one entire cycle of a family medicine residency. Funding these programs for the next five years will give health centers greater confidence they can recruit the professionals they need, and medical students, residents, and others greater confidence in their decision to work in an underserved community.”

 

Video of Sen. Murray’s speech available HERE.

 

Full text below of Sen. Murray’s speech:

 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all of our witnesses for joining us.

 

“Mr. Chairman, my colleagues and I look forward to working with you again this Congress on behalf of workers, communities, and families—as we have under your leadership the past two Congresses.

 

“This is the first time we have met since your announcement, and my colleagues and I thank you for your bipartisan approach to the work we do in this Committee and this institution. You and I, along with so many other members in this room, have been able to work in a bipartisan fashion to address many issues facing families across this country from ESSA and 21st Century CURES, to our efforts on the opioids epidemic, and so many other initiatives. 

 

“On behalf of my side of the dais, I hope we can continue that tradition on a number of fronts this Congress, and work together to make the most of your final two years.

“I would also like to welcome our new members to the Committee. I look forward to having our new colleagues—Senators Romney, Braun, and Rosen—join the long, bipartisan tradition of the Committee as we address the Primary Care Cliff, higher education, health care costs, retirement security, and many other issues this year. Welcome.

 

“And finally, I am glad President Trump listened to the workers, families, and communities harmed by his shutdown and ended it. The pointless 35-day shutdown not only caused great damage, but wasted the first month of this Congress. We have a lot of important work to do, starting with the topic of today’s hearing on primary care providers.

 

“After hearing from families across Washington state about the role community health centers play in their lives, and visiting centers across the state to see the good work they do firsthand, I’m looking forward to hearing our witnesses’ perspectives on this issue as well.

“Community health centers see over 27 million patients a year—many in rural and other underserved communities. And teaching health centers—and programs like the National Health Service Corps—help bring qualified health professionals to communities in need.

 

“These programs make it possible for millions of patients and families to get care they can afford close to home. And they play a critical role in the local response to national health challenges like the opioid crisis.

 

“But this time last year, they were in the middle of an entirely different kind of crisis. Community health centers were left waiting without funding, and uncertain when Congress would extend funding for programs that support them and their staff, and give patients access to the care they rely on.

 

“This time last year, community health centers across the country were forced to cut back hours, staff, and services, and halt planned expansions.

 

“Like in Spokane, Washington—where new opioid-addiction treatment services, initiated to combat the opioid epidemic, were jeopardized by the funding freeze.

 

“Or on the Olympic Peninsula—where plans to expand behavioral health services were also put on hold.

 

“Or in Whatcom County—where they considered canceling construction plans for new medical, dental, and behavioral health care facilities.

 

“This time last year, community health centers were left wondering how to pay their current staff and attract new professionals.

 

“Like in Ferry County—a rural area with fewer than four people per square mile—where the funding uncertainty left a center unable to sign annual contracts for needed medical staff and managers.

 

“This time last year, some community health centers had to figure out ways to cover basic but crucial, annual reoccurring expenses, like renewing the leases for their buildings.

 

“In Yakima, Washington, clinics in some of our most vulnerable communities were at risk of closing.

 

“And it wasn’t just Washington, centers across the country faced these challenges.

“Elsewhere, a teaching health center closed, meaning the residents there—health care providers who were willing to forgo the draws of an academic hospital, roll up their sleeves, and serve patients and families in communities with severe health professional shortages—faced the harrowing prospect of having to scramble to find a new residency program, and possibly redo a whole year of their residency.

 

“Fortunately, one of our witnesses today, Dr. Waits, stepped in and helped many of them to avoid that catastrophe. I hope we are able to hear a bit more about that in his testimony.

 

“In the end, Congress was able to come together in a bipartisan way to fund community health centers and other critical primary care programs. But if funding runs out again this year, we’ll be right back where we were a year ago.

 

“It’s clear to members on both sides of the aisle we need to do more to provide stability for our communities and the health centers they depend on. So I’m glad Chairman Alexander and I were able to introduce legislation to do just that.

“While it’s not the bill either one of us would have written on our own, it lays down a clear, bipartisan marker for providing these programs with long-term funding. Our bipartisan bill will provide five years of stable funding for our community health centers, and give them the certainty they need to bring on skilled staff, offer new services, and make sure patients and families across the country are able to find the care they need close to home.

 

“It will also extend funding for teaching health centers and the National Health Service Corps—which encourage medical students and doctors to work in underserved communities—and will fund at least one entire cycle of a family medicine residency.

 

“Funding these programs for the next five years will give health centers greater confidence they can recruit the professionals they need, and medical students, residents, and others greater confidence in their decision to work in an underserved community.

 

“And our bill also extends funding for important programs to help support research and services to manage diabetes, including in Indian health facilities.”

 

“I remember all too well the challenges our community health centers were facing a year ago—and I know my colleagues do as well. So I’m hopeful we can come together in a bipartisan way to quickly extend funding for these programs to make sure a year from now—and even five years from now—this kind of crisis doesn’t happen again.

 

“Thank you.”

 

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