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Community Health Centers Urge Congress to Invest in Health Equity

Advocates for Community Health, a new coalition of 14 community health centers, are urging Congress to help underserved populations and invest in health equity.

A new coalition of community health centers known as Advocates for Community Health (ACH) recently announced its commitment to impacting federal policy by urging Congress to invest in health equity.

The coalition is a new Washington DC-based membership organization with 14 federally qualified health center members so far. Its members serve more than 1.3 million patients across six states and Puerto Rico.

“Our vision is a health care system that is centered on equity and access,” said Amanda Pears Kelley, CEO of ACH, in a press release.

“Community health centers have long been the source of quality, affordable health care for marginalized, underserved populations across our country. As our nation’s leaders reimagine health equity in the wake of a global pandemic, Advocates for Community Health is dedicated to ensuring federal policy mirrors the needs and priorities of community health centers providing lifesaving services to millions.”

Recent research has shown that community-based organizations can help with chronic disease management and mitigating health disparities. According to ACH, community health centers across the nation were serving 1 in 11 Americans and 1 in 5 Medicaid beneficiaries or uninsured individuals even before the pandemic began.

Local and community-focused health centers often care for underserved populations who are traditionally overlooked in larger health systems.

Community health centers are usually funded by Medicaid, Medicare, patient fees, or private insurance, according to HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) website. All health centers can access 340B drug pricing program discounts, free vaccines for uninsured and underinsured children, physician recruitment assistance, and reimbursements for services rendered to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, HRSA states.

ACH’s mission is “To meaningfully impact federal public policy by harnessing the effectiveness and structure of forward leaning community health centers and systems to advance the delivery of health care to underserved populations and cultivate new opportunities to achieve health equity in support of patients and communities in need,” according to its website’s FAQs.

In its first year of advocacy, the group plans to focus on influencing Congress and the Biden Administration regarding COVID-19 relief and vaccination plans and advocating for funding and policies relating to the size and scope of health centers.

The organization also plans to advocate on behalf of its members for value-based payment and 340B, along with justice, diversity, and equity across the healthcare sector.

AHC envisions its efforts as complementary to those of other community health center groups, such as the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). Members will be able to help shape policy conversations and gain joint access to the Association of the Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU) to further advocacy efforts.

CMS recently committed to health equity efforts as part of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and the CY 2022 Medicare Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) proposed rule.

But the pandemic exposed other major health equity issues across US health systems that cannot be ignored.

Recent research found that COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans rarely address health equity. Only 20 states created health equity committees to aid in distribution despite the stark health disparities that underserved and marginalized populations have already faced.

With a local focus and intimate understanding of their community’s needs, community health centers could serve as a model for health equity across the nation’s health systems.  

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