Alexander: Congress Must Act Soon To Ensure 27 Million Americans Can Continue to Receive Primary Care Close to Home

Posted on January 29, 2019

“Community health centers have also been an important part of combating the opioid crisis that has impacted virtually every community across the country.” 

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 29, 2019 – Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said, “27 million Americans receive their primary care and other services at community health centers.”

Alexander said, “Community health centers are one way American families can have access to affordable health care close to home. This includes a wide range of health care, including preventive care, help managing chronic conditions like asthma or high blood pressure, vaccines, and prenatal care. There are about 1,400 federally-funded health centers that provide outpatient care to approximately 27 million people, including 400,000 Tennesseans, at about 12,000 sites across the United States. Community health centers have also been an important part of combating the opioid crisis that has impacted virtually every community across the country.”

“These centers accept private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and charge patients based on a sliding fee scale so that those who are in need of care receive it, regardless of ability to pay,” Alexander continued. “Community health centers also receive federal funding to help cover their costs. In Fiscal Year 2019, these centers received $4 billion in mandatory funding and $1.6 billion in discretionary funding. Congress has to act by the end of September to make sure community health centers continue to receive this federal funding and keep their doors open. Two weeks ago, Senator Murray and I took the first step by introducing legislation that will extend funding for community health centers for five years at $4 billion a year in mandatory funding.”

Alexander made his remarks today at a hearing to hear more about community health centers, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education programs, which all currently receive mandatory funding from the federal government that is set to expire at the end of this fiscal year. He also welcomed Dr. Dennis Freeman of Cherokee Health Systems, a community health center based in Knoxville, Tennessee with 23 clinics in 14 counties, who was one of the witnesses who testified at the hearing.

Alexander also told the story of a community health center in Tennessee: “In Tennessee, after Lewis County’s only hospital closed, the closest emergency room for its 12,000 residents was 30 minutes away. The old hospital building was turned into the Lewis Health Center, a community health center which operates as something between a clinic and full hospital. Lewis Health Center estimates they can deal with about 90 percent of patients that walk in the door. The center has a full laboratory to run tests, can perform X-rays or give IVs, and keeps an ambulance ready to take patients to a partnering hospital if they need more care. Because the Lewis Health Center is a community health center, they charge patients based on a sliding scale which means more people have access to and can afford health care.”

You can read Alexander’s full prepared remarks here.

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Lamar Alexander is the senior senator from Tennessee, and he serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. For his full biography, click here.