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Legislation Awaiting White House Signature Boosts Community Health Center Services

The medical innovation package recently passed by the House and Senate includes several measures that will boost and expand services to the medically underserved.  The 21st Century Cures Act packages together health policy provisions related to cancer research, speeds up the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for prescription medication,  funds mental health services and efforts to fight substance abuse.   The bill also contains key provisions that will in effect expand health centers services, staff and strengthen training for providers, especially in the area of treating opioid addiction.

“Health center professionals are deeply appreciative of the tools this key legislation provides which will help them better protect public health, fight the disease of addiction, and serve their elderly patients with quality primary care services,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).  “We thank the lawmakers for their hard work putting together this legislation and for their bipartisan leadership.”’

The key Community Health Center provisions include:

  • Legal protections for medical practitioners who volunteer at Community Health Centers.  This measure extends some relief to health centers that face challenges with recruiting workforce, especially in rural, medically underserved areas.  Federal Tort Claims Act protections already apply to health center professionals for medical malpractice; now licensed medical practitioners who wish to dedicate their free time and services at their local health center can do so under the same umbrella of protection.
  •  A provision that make it easier for health centers to participate in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and ensure their Medicare patients have access to high quality, coordinated care through local and regional networks of providers.
  • Funding for states to supplement programs that prevent and treat opioid addiction, train health care providers that deal with the nationwide addiction epidemic, and improve prescription drug monitoring programs.

The 21st Century Cures Act is heading for signature into law by President Barack Obama, following passage yesterday by the U.S. Senate.