CHN: Community Health Centers Reauthorized by House and Senate

Bill Increases Number of People Served by Centers and Broadens Services Provided
A bill (S 1533) to reauthorize and improve Community Health Centers is awaiting President Bush’s signature. The House passed S 1533 on Wednesday, October 16, with the Senate clearing the measure by voice vote the next day. Bush’s signature on the bill would complete one of the few actions taken by the 107th Congress to address the increasing number of Americans without health insurance by boosting the quality and services of community health centers in both rural and urban populations. The measure merges a House bill (HR 3450) passed October 1 with a version that the Senate passed April 16.

In an effort to meet Bush’s goal of doubling the 11 million patients currently served by health centers by 2006, S 1533 provides the centers with “such sums as may be necessary” for fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2006. The original Senate bill would have authorized $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2002, a 62 percent increase over last year, and established various programs to increase health care access for immigrants through translation and other services. These immigrant provisions are absent in the final bill.

The measure would establish a grant program at $40 million for fiscal year 2002 and such sums thereafter to improve the quality of health care offered by rural and other small providers. The measure also establishes the Healthy Community Access Program at $50 million in grants over five years, and reauthorizes the National Health Service Corps at $146 million in fiscal year 2002 and such sums thereafter as loan repayment incentives for health profession students to serve as primary care clinicians in underserved areas.

The measure broadens the services provided by health centers, expanding cancer screening from current law’s narrow breast and cervical cancer provision to broader coverage of all “appropriate cancer screening.” The bill also calls for behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse services to be added to the previous legislation’s category of “additional health services.” These provisions will be an important step in addressing the broad range of health care needs for the nearly 41.2 million Americans estimated by the Census Bureau to be uninsured as of last year.

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