By Gerrelda Davis
LPCA, Executive Director
Because I have been given the honor of publishing our first blog post of 2023, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on our recent trip to Washington D.C. for our first in-person NACHC Policy & Issues Forum since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and our productive visit to Capitol Hill.
I want to start by thanking all our FQHC members who took time out of their busy schedules to join us in Washington D.C. As healthcare leaders in Louisiana, we all share in the responsibility to advocate on behalf of our patients and educate our policymakers on the healthcare issues that matter most to our communities. I am blown away by our membership’s passion, tireless energy, and enthusiasm when it comes to health center advocacy. Our FQHC members arrived at Hill meetings with talking points and a collection of real-world patient experiences in hand, ready to share with their Member of Congress.
We know that these visits are not about us. These meetings are opportunities for us to use our voices to speak on behalf of those who are often forgotten or overlooked. These Hill visits are about ensuring that our patients, who depend on us, have continued access to the healthcare services they need and deserve.
This year was no different. Here are just a few of the issues we discussed with each of our Members of Congress and their advisors:
Renew and Expand Health Center Funding
Community health center funding and renewed calls for long-term stability are always at the top of our collective priority list. The Community Health Center Fund accounts for nearly 70% of health center funding and expires at the end of FY 2023. This also comes at a time when inflation and soaring workforce costs have made fiscal operations even more challenging. This year, in partnership with NACHC and our colleagues from across the country, we asked that our Members of Congress:
- support bipartisan efforts to extend community health center and primary care workforce funding.
- support continued robust funding in discretionary funding for community health centers through the FY2024 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill by signing the annual appropriations letter.
Community health centers are unique in that they are required to reinvest funds into patient care and, in doing so, can address social barriers to care. Many of our health centers are able to use their funds to provide transportation, WIC and nutrition services, coordinated care services, and more. Dr. Shondra Williams, CEO of InclusivCare, shared an interesting example: her health center is opening an early child care center for working professionals. (Learn more)
Protect the 340B Drug Pricing Program
Community health centers across Louisiana take advantage of 340B drug discounts to provide our uninsured and underinsured patients access to affordable medicines for chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. 340B restrictions require health centers to assign medication to one contract pharmacy which limits access for patients who cannot access that pharmacy – specifically for health centers that serve across multiple communities/parishes. The impact of contract pharmacy restrictions and ongoing abuse by Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) has forced health centers to develop new core principles for reforming the 340B program.
We encouraged out Congressional delegation to:
- amend the 340B statute to protect access for the true safety-net providers.
- provide legislation that requires transparency for covered entities in order to ensure that our vulnerable and underserved patients benefit from the program.
- preserve and stabilize the 340B program to guarantee continued access for our patients to life-saving prescriptions at affordable costs.
Strengthen Our Health Center Workforce
Like other healthcare organizations across the country, Louisiana’s community health centers are struggling to retain and recruit employees – this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Burnout, early retirement, and marketplace competition have also strained our fragile workforce. According to a NACHC membership survey, nurses represent the highest-ranked category of workforce loss, followed by administrative staff, behavioral health staff, and dental staff.
We need our federal policymakers to take action, and to:
- support bipartisan efforts to extend funding for the National Health Service Corps.
- provide at least three years of robust funding for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program.
Katie Parnell, CEO of CommuniHealth Services that operates out of Morehouse, Ouachita, and Union Parishes, helped us shed light on the scope of the problem in her community. She shared that a local hospital provides $100K sign-on bonuses to providers—competition that threatens our ability to recruit local providers without the NHSC, THCGME, and similar programs that cover tuition, fees, and educational costs for providers working in healthcare shortage areas after graduation.
For more information on each of these policy priorities, please refer to NACHC’s policy papers.
By all accounts, our Hill meetings were a great success! However, as we all know, the work continues. It is up to us to ensure that we hold these elected officials accountable. Over the course of the year, we’ll follow-up with them regularly and remind them that our patients deserve their focus and attention.
Over the coming months, and with National Health Center Week on the horizon, rest assured that our team here at LPCA will build on this momentum. We’ll encourage each of our Members of Congress to visit a health center in their district. This is where our message really hits home—where our elected officials can experience firsthand how community health centers improve the health and well-being of their communities. This is where they can see how we’re doing our part to move Louisiana’s health forward.
And we’ll insist that they do theirs.