With Health Centers facing a 70% reduction to Program funding in FY 2016, a small group of Senators and Congressional Representatives stepped up to lead a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” Senate and House letter to address this Health Center Funding Cliff. The letters are addressed to Congressional Leadership and by co-signing, Members of Congress publicly state their support for the Health Centers and the need to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff. The House and Senate letters are currently circulating for signatures in Congress.
“These letters are vitally important in setting the stage for continued funding for Health Centers into the future,” said NACHC’s Director of Federal Affairs John Sawyer. “We have seen over and over again that it’s outreach from back home that makes the difference and turns a member from ‘no’ to ‘yes’,” noted Sawyer.
So far, 55 senators and 219 representatives have added their names to the letter. Health Center advocates from across the nation have been advocating hard and employing different advocacy strategies to bring their legislators to the table and get them to commit to co-sign the Health Center Cliff Letter.
For Seferino Montaño, the Chief Executive Officer of La Casa Family Health Center in Portales, NM, the key to enlisting Representative Steve Pearce (R) as a co-signer to the Health Center Funding Cliff Letter was “constantly educating him and keeping him involved in the issues facing Health Centers. We continually tried to frame the issue through a rural perspective.In the Pearce’s district, which covers nearly half the state of New Mexico, Health Centers like ours are, for much of the population, the only source of health care that is both accessible and available,” said Montaño. Through emails, personal correspondence, phone calls, and in person visits “we continually made the case for the current and growing need for the services that we provide and the consequences for his constituents should funding for Health Centers be cut.” All these efforts helped create a strong relationship with the Representative that resulted in Pearce signing the “Dear Colleague” letter after being contacted by Montaño. “When I’m in DC for the Policy and Issues Forum next Spring, I plan to personally visit Representative Pearce on the Hill and thank him for his support,” said Montaño.
In Alaska, David D’Amato, Senior Health Policy Director with the Alaska Primary Care Association, noted that “Community Health Centers are so central to our way of life that, in absence of these health care homes, there would literally be no health services available to a large number of residents.” Both Senators Begich (D) and Murkowski (R), who also serve on the pivotal Appropriations Committee, “reallynities,” said D’Amato. It is this understanding on behalf of Alaskan lawmakers, as well as the personal relationships that have been formed with Begich and Murkowski and Health Centers across the state, that has helped create a strong, responsive relationship enabling the Alaska PCA and Health Center Advocates to reach out and secure signatures from both senators and their Representative to the letter. “Health Cent seem to understand that the consequence of the Health Center Funding Cliff to Alaska is that, if underfunding the Health Centers causes a CHC to close on the Alaska frontier, there is literally nowhere else for their constituents to go for health care in many of their commuers in Alaska are like a marriage vow: they are there for people in richness and poverty, and we’re blessed with a federal delegation who gets this,” he said.
For John Silva, Chief Executive Officer at Morton Comprehensive Health Services in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the political environment around issues related to health care in Oklahoma has been exceptionally challenging in a Republican dominated state. “In large part, the conversation in Oklahoma has been an economic one when it comes to the Health Center Funding Cliff. So, we make sure to highlight the number of patients that we serve and the professionals that we employ,” said Silva. To help make the case for the continued funding of Health Centers, Silva and his colleagues have “shown up for everything: at collaborative partnerships, small meetings, and gatherings of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce – a relationship that we have worked to foster over the last three to four years. We also started a monthly speaker series, inviting our elected officials, foundations, and the community at large, to come and learn about the issues facing the Health Centers.” Said Silva, “Speaking out on behalf of our Health Center is something we continually do year-round.” As a result of efforts like these, Senator James M. Inhofe (R) and Representative Tom Cole (R) have signed onto the “Dear Colleague” letter and other legislators “who have been reluctant to go near anything related to health care, have been quietly working with us on the sidelines, helping to set up meetings and open important doors,” noted Silva. In some ways “we were the little engine that could,” he said.
Though these Health Centers and the Alaska PCA operate in regions with distinct political and social differences, all were able to successfully reach out and recruit their Members of Congress to sign the “Dear Colleague” letter based in large part upon the relationships they had built-up with their members over time. With a small window left in this year’s Congressional session, Health Center advocates must press on and actively reach out to their Members of Congress. Only by having a large number of bipartisan co-singers, will we send the unmistakable message to Congressional leadership and the President that support for Health Centers is strong and that the Health Center Funding Cliff must be fixed.
Take action today:
- Call the NACHC Advocacy Hotline at 866-456-3949 to contact your Members’ offices directly and ask that they co-sign the Health Center funding cliff letters.
- Email your Senators and Representative and ask them to co-sign the Health Center Funding Cliff letter (send your email through the Grassroots Action Center by entering your zip code here).
- Share any feedback you receive by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A copy of each letter can be found here along with updated lists of congressional signers and talking points.
“We can’t write anyone off in this effort, and we’ll need the action and leadership of every advocate in the country to get this done. The deadlines for signatures are fast approaching, so take action now,” said Sawyer.