Weekly Columns

With the rising costs of healthcare coupled with high premiums and even higher deductibles, many hardworking American’s are being priced out of having access to health care. While members of Congress disagree about the best policies to create a patient-centered health care system that is affordable and contains costs, there is one solution that has widespread support to meet patient needs; community health centers (CHCs). 

Created more than 50 years ago, CHCs represent the nation’s largest primary care network. More than 27 million low-income patients including eight million children are served at more than 10,000 sites nationwide. In Arkansas there are 135 facilities that help nearly 200,000 people. 

CHCs provide an effective and cost-efficient solution in meeting the challenges facing the delivery of affordable health care services. Nationwide, CHCs serve one in six people living in rural communities. For many of those individuals, CHCs provide health care that would otherwise be financially out of reach. In rural states like Arkansas, where provider shortages and expensive mandates limit services, CHCs are even more crucial to health care delivery. 

These facilities are an important part of our health care system and a worthwhile investment. Besides saving lives, they also save taxpayer dollars. CHCs keep health care costs low and help our health care system save money in the long term by providing important preventative and comprehensive services many rural Arkansans can’t get anywhere else. Health centers generate $24 billion in savings annually for our health care system.

In addition to medical, dental and vision care, CHCs provide behavioral health care. In June 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would provide $195 million in grants to CHCs to increase access to mental health and substance abuse services, including opioid addiction treatment.  

Innovative, effective approaches are necessary to address the ever-evolving opioid crisis, especially in rural areas where the risk of abuse is higher. Through their work in mental and behavioral health and giving addicts seeking treatment a place to go, no matter what their circumstances are, CHCs are on the front lines of this battle.

These facilities are unique to the communities they serve, providing for the specific needs and challenges of the people who go there to receive care. Local community leaders have a stake in ensuring those they represent have access to quality care. If the people living in the community are living healthier lives, they’ll be able to be more productive citizens, and help the community thrive. 

I understand the importance of this funding. That’s why I joined my colleagues on a bipartisan letter calling for action to extend critical funding that expired in September 2017. While funding was not approved by the end of the fiscal year, Congress recently passed, with my support, legislation that reauthorizes increased funding of CHCs for two years. This will ensure that CHC patients have stable access to care. 

I’m grateful for the services and role CHCs play in providing access to quality health care and will continue to support them so Arkansans have a reliable and affordable health care option.