Do Something In The Lame Duck Session -- Protect Our Public Health

A lame duck session of Congress begins in just a few days. Democrats will try to pass whatever legislation they can and Republicans will try to hold off on anything until they have full control of the House and Senate. In a nutshell, it has the potential to be what we have become use to – a do-nothing Congress. Unfortunately, if Congress does nothing in this lame duck session, they will complete one thing – put the health and safety of our country at risk by not funding of our public health system.

How can this happen? Because Congress funds many programs for only short periods of time and at their discretion, organizations such as the public health system are at the mercy of current politics and whichever Congress-person will take up their cause. So next year, the public health system faces a “cliff” when 70% of their federal grants go away. Only Congress can restore the needed funding so these organizations can continue their programs and plan for the future. We all need to raise our voices, because Congress does listen if enough of their constituents scream.

Why does loss of funding of our public health system matter? Let me share a few ways:

  • Worried about Ebola? Scientists are working hard to create a vaccine. We have managed to control an outbreak in this country so far, and what happens the next time? What happens if some terrorist finds a way to export Ebola, SARS, MERS, or some other catastrophic illness to our country? We need a strong public health system to implement mass vaccination strategies that may someday be required.
  • How about the lack of primary care doctors in our health care system? Fee for service payment methods have decimated our primary care workforce and now it is getting more difficult to find a family doctor, especially in rural settings. The National Health Service Corp provides scholarships and loan repayment for those entering primary care in underserved areas, and over half of those primary care providers serve in community health centers. The funding for this program will go away ENTIRELY in 2015.
  • Community Health Centers currently provide basic care for 22 million people in a very cost effective manner. Most people who go to community health centers are low income, hard-working individuals, many of whom don’t have health insurance. This includes your construction workers, landscapers, wait-staff, and home care providers – we need to keep these people healthy so we can have a productive economy. Even in states with Medicaid expansion, many don’t qualify for help. And in states not expanding Medicaid? Community Health Centers are a life saver. If funding is not approved, about six million of these patients will lose access to care. Instead of cutting access, we need to increase access to community health centers.

Community Health Centers save the health care system over $24 billion annually through reductions in emergency department use and hospitalizations.  Guess how much is being requested for 2016? Only $3.6 billion in addition to their $1.495 billion of level base funding. Investments in community health return dollars on the pennies.

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