Community Health Care Officials, Experts Call for Funding Expansion To Increase Access, Reduce Costs
Lawmakers and witnesses at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Thursday largely agreed that funding increases for community health centers and the National Health Service Corps are necessary to expand access to health care and reduce costs, CQ HealthBeat reports. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chaired the hearing, said, "We are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars because we are not keeping people healthy and giving them access to primary care."
National Association of Community Health Centers Senior Vice President Daniel Hawkins noted that community health care centers emphasize individual wellness and prevention that lead to fewer emergency department visits and hospitalizations and increased savings. He said that in 2008, the centers generated $18 billion in savings and as much as $500 billion could be saved annually if every resident sought care at the centers. However, Government Accountability Office Director of Health Care Cynthia Bascetta said that a 2008 GAO analysis found that in 2007, 60% of medically underserved areas in the Midwest, 40% in the South, 37% in the Northeast and 31% in the West did not have such health centers.
Fitzhugh Mullan, the head professor of medicine and health policy at George Washington University, also noted that a disproportionate number of medical students are opting to pursue specialist fields over primary care, resulting in declining numbers of primary care physicians nationwide. He said that just 0.25% of U.S. physicians currently are in NHSC, which seeks to attract primary care providers to rural and urban communities that have shortages with a student debt reduction program.
However, the organization's limited budget restricts it from increasing its rolls with those interested in its scholarships and loan repayment opportunities, Mullan said. Sanders said, "That's where we are today," adding, "The most important work is disparaged. ... There is a growing understanding ... that we need nothing less than a revolution in primary health care" (Attias, CQ HealthBeat, 4/30).