WASHINGTON, D.C. – With applications for funding for eight Ohio Community Health Centers (CHCs) pending at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) urged HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell to release outstanding grant funding to help support centers like Family Health Care of Northwest Ohio meet the demand for services.
“Community Health Centers in Ohio and across the U.S. are critical access points for underserved patients,” said Brown. “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.”
“Family Health Care of Northwest Ohio is providing primary and preventive care but additional funds would allow us to expand our services to include dental care, which is a huge need in our community,” said Jennifer Smith, Director of Family Health Care of Northwest Ohio. “Right now we don’t have a dentist in Van Wert that will take new Medicaid patients, and those who already take Medicaid patients only take a limited number. If we could become fully funded we could give our patients a dental home, which is a serious need in our area.”
“Statewide, we see the increase in demand for access to quality care. We commend Senator Brown for his leadership and assistance in bringing together a bipartisan group of senators from across the country to highlight this opportunity that will strengthen our primary care delivery system,” said Randy Runyon, CEO and President of the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers. “Congress has acted, and communities throughout Ohio have answered the call. We join Senator Brown in respectfully asking the Department to release the outstanding grant funding as we stand ready to serve and welcome more Ohioans to their new health care homes.
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.
Full text of the letter is below.
June 19, 2015
The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Secretary Burwell:
As strong supporters of our nation’s Community Health Centers (CHCs), we want to thank you for your continued efforts to increase access to primary care and health services for all Americans. We appreciate the work the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has done to increase access to CHCs, and we urge you to utilize all of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 CHC funding available so health centers are able to keep up with the current demands for additional sites and services.
For half a century, CHCs have been providing comprehensive primary health care and support services to underserved and uninsured patients nationwide. Investments in CHCs across the country have already helped provide health care, behavioral health, dental care, vision, and pharmacy services to more than 23 million individuals, yet demand for additional sites and services remains.
As you know, in FY2015, the Health Centers Program received a total program funding level of $5.1 billion. This includes $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. If fully utilized, these funds could increase access to care for patients in every state of the country.
We understand that a portion of the FY2015 funding was allocated for the Health Center Program but left unobligated to support the program should Congress fail to extend the Fund before the end of FY2015. Congress has since extended funding for the Health Center Fund through 2017 as part of H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. This 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, we hope HHS will allocate available funding as soon as possible.
We appreciate that HHS has already started to allocate some of the remaining FY2015 funds. Last month, HHS announced $101 million in new funding to CHCs in 33 states and two U.S. Territories. These New Access Point (NAP) awards will expand access to primary care for an additional 650,000 patients in 164 communities, generating an overall cost savings to the health care system. While we are pleased HHS has awarded these funds to increase access to care across the country, there are still more than 300 approved, unfunded applications pending from communities desperately in need of health center services.
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.