Tess Kuenning: Invest in primary care where it is needed

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Bi-State Primary Care Association is proud of the work of our Vermont Congressional Delegation to increase access to comprehensive, affordable, quality health care for Vermonters and people across the nation. Senator Leahy advocates as a member of the Appropriations Committee and Congressman Welch is making his voice heard for added funding in his role on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Senator Sanders shapes policy through his role on the HELP Committee (Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) and is championing key investments in accessible health care through legislation currently

before Congress. Senator Sanders's legislation is fully supported by Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch.

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are non-profit organizations that provide health care services to over 28 million Americans regardless of ability to pay. They employ over 222,000 people and save our health care system billions of dollars by providing affordable preventive care to rural and urban medically underserved communities and reducing the need for more expensive care, like emergency department visits.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to provide long-term and stable funding to FQHCs. The most robust bill is S. 962/HR. 1943, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act, authored by Senator Sanders and Congressman Clyburn.

S. 962 doubles the funding for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC). The NHSC is a program that awards scholarships and loan repayment to primary care providers in regions of the United States with limited access to health care. Funding for the NHSC is critical because this program increases access and brings more providers to the areas that desperately need them, including right here in Vermont. The bill extends the Community Health Center Trust Fund for five years and includes an increase of 10 percent to meet the growing demand for comprehensive mental and oral health services, and to support our workforce of doctors, nurses,

dentists, and mental health providers in FQHCs across the country. S. 962 also includes critical capital investments that would enable FQHCs to meet the needs of their communities around the country.

Recently, a different approach in Congress proposes to fund FQHCs and the National Health Service Corps at flat levels for four years. This approach causes grave concerns as flat funding does not accommodate medical inflation. Health policy experts have reported this could result in effectively a 20-percent funding reduction over four years, forcing centers to reduce their hours and staff, and leading to four million fewer patients served each year.

We congratulate and thank our Vermont Members of Congress for their unwavering support. Bi-State represents 28 Community Health Centers serving over 315,400 patients across every county in New Hampshire and Vermont, and we see firsthand that Community Health Centers are improving health outcomes and narrowing health disparities in our local communities. We are grateful to work alongside champions who are fighting for a long-term investment in a successful primary care delivery model.

Tess Kuenning, CNS, MS, RN, is president and CEO of Bi-State Primary Care Association. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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