Yesterday the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a legislative hearing with significant implications for efforts to preserve funding for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which expires in just 163 days. Read ACU’s recap of the hearing, “Examining Existing Federal Programs to Build a Stronger Health Workforce and Improve Primary Care,” and learn about important new bipartisan House legislation, the Strengthening Community Care Act of 2023, below.
As Fiscal Cliff Looms, Representatives Emphasize Importance of Preserving Health Center NHSC Funding & Praise Legislation
House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee Chairman Brett Guthrie (R-KY) opened the hearing with remarks highlighting the importance of reauthorizing critical programs within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). “The policies before us today each play a unique role in providing greater access to care for millions of Americans, particularly in rural and underserved communities,” Guthrie said. “Many of these programs, [such as the NHSC and Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program (THCGME)] expire on September 30th. By taking early action, we are providing reassurance that they can continue without disruption.”
Throughout the hearing, members praised the Strengthening Community Care Act of 2023. This bipartisan bill would extend current mandatory funding levels of the Community Health Center Fund and the NHSC through 2028. “Both programs allow millions of people across the country in medically underserved communities to receive access to high-quality primary care services, including pharmacy, mental health, substance use disorder, and dental care services,” Guthrie said. “Across Kentucky [alone], HRSA’s Uniform Data System shows that 25 health systems received grant funding in 2021. Nearly 600,000 patients were served, many of which were served by providers who participated in the NHSC.” Additionally, Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) applauded her colleagues for introducing the Strengthening Community Care Act but emphasized that Congress must do more as flat funding will prevent CHCs from meeting their constituents’ needs.
HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson’s Testimony Underlines the Importance of Preserving the NHSC
HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson also testified before the Committee on how growing the next generation of primary care providers is directly linked to renewing and extending mandatory funding for NHSC scholarships. “Recognizing the ongoing demand for high-quality clinicians in high-need communities across the country, the President’s Budget seeks to sustain this record level of [NHSC] participation by proposing $966 million in Fiscal Year 2024, including $790 million in annual mandatory funding and a sustained three-year mandatory investment in the program,” said Johnson. “Without an increased mandatory investment in this program, HRSA will be unable to maintain this historic field strength of providers, reducing the opportunity to leverage this flagship program for incentivizing new providers to practice in under-resourced communities at a time when these clinicians are needed more than ever.”
Later in the hearing, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) asked Johnson how increasing Congress’ commitment to the NHSC and other service-based programs would impact efforts to help recruit, train, and retain a diverse and community-focused workforce that can meet our current and future demands. “There is nowhere that I go, to any of our grantees or anyone in community-based workforce, where workforce isn’t first, second, and third [on their] list of priorities [regarding] issues they are facing,” Johnson responded. “[This] is why it is so critically important to sustain the level [of funding] that we’re at when it comes to what we’ve been able to do with the National Health Service Corps, and be able to help place clinicians in the communities that need them most.”
Members also discussed the issue of inconsistent funding, which harms both the NHSC and THCGME programs. Johnson explained that “it’s been very difficult for programs to plan appropriately. Funding cliffs make it hard to know with security whether or not you can recruit your next class of residents. It also makes it hard for residents who really want to train in the community to make that commitment, if they’re not sure the funding is there. So, it creates problems and challenges for programs, current residents, and future residents.”
ACU is heartened to see bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for the National Health Service Corps, but we can’t let up: we need advocates to continue urging legislators to #SavetheNHSC. Stay tuned for calls to action, and if you haven’t yet, become an ACU advocate and ask your friends and colleagues to join us as well!
Read Our New White Paper
ACU’s new white paper showcases the NHSC’s 50-year legacy of success, as well as its funding history, the looming FY23 fiscal cliff, and our call to Congress to preserve and expand this vital program. Read our white paper to learn more about the Corps’ structure and role in increasing clinical diversity, recent milestones and threats in the Corps’ funding, and why Congress must act to ensure longterm, sustainable funding.