By Mountain Family Health Centers
A team of Mountain Family Health Centers leadership and staff met with members of Congress earlier this year as part of an annual gathering of health center representatives in Washington, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Annette Franta attended with the Mountain Family delegation and noted strong bipartisan support among Colorado’s U.S. representatives and senators for community health centers.
“Part of it has to do with our particular representatives being more seasoned… there’s so many new legislators [from other states] right now, and most of Colorado’s have been in office for at least four years,” says Franta. “Even their staffers understand community health centers.”
Congress is considering a 5-year funding proposal this year for community health centers, compared to 2-year funding packages in the past.
“It’ll be a huge relief if the 5-year funding passes,” says Franta, “because we’re not going back [to Congress to ask for funding] every two years. We have a proven, sustainable model that provides great care.”
The annual trip to Washington, D.C. was to allow Mountain Family representatives to attend a conference by the National Association of Community Health Centers, or NACHC, as well as lobby members of Congress. NACHC identifies what kinds of bills to support for community health center funding. It comes after a similar gathering at Colorado’s state Capital organized by the Colorado Community Health Network (CCHN), where Mountain Family representatives met with state legislators.
Franta notes there is significant support for this year’s funding bill in Congress, but lawmakers tend to put off the issue until later in the year.
“It still needs to be signed, sealed, and delivered,” she emphasized. “We need to continue to speak of the importance for the legislators to act.”
Also at stake is continued funding for an important tool used to recruit, train, and retain employees in the rural and resort areas, which applies to Mountain Family’s service area in Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties. Congress is considering ongoing support for loan repayment opportunities for community health center employees through the National Health Service Corps. Several Mountain Family employees are current recipients of this benefit and many others have benefited from the program in the past.
Franta says funding for loan repayment opportunities makes a big difference. “It’s a great recruitment tool to be able say to somebody: we might not pay what a hospital does, but you can benefit from loan repayment.”
Hot topics this year include significant support and conversations about opioid and substance use disorder treatment during this year’s gathering. Community health centers are more likely to be able to expand such treatment thanks to more dedicated funding from federal agencies. Telehealth services are also getting a lot of support and attention. During a telehealth appointment, a patient usually meets with a provider using a high-quality video connection. This makes it easier for patients to see providers or specialists in other locations, often larger metropolitan areas. Such services can expand the list of providers rural patients have access to.
Support for providing care with telehealth services is becoming more widely accepted but can be a challenge in Colorado. That’s because Health First Colorado (Medicaid) does not recognize telehealth as a reimbursable visit. This is different than in other states, where Medicaid reimbursement is approved for telehealth services.