The Senate passed legislation that would reauthorize and strengthen the community health center and rural healthcare programs, as well as the National Health Service Corps, which places physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals in rural and underserved areas.
The Health Care Safety Net Act of 2008 provides for scholarship and loan repayment programs through 2012 for the National Health Service Corps program. As part of the legislation, Congress instructed HHS to help establish appropriate relationships between corps members and health professionals in the community, and also create professional development and training programs. The bill also authorized funding that will increase annually through 2012 for the community health center program, including about $2.1 billion for fiscal 2008. No later than two years after the bill is enacted, the comptroller general will issue a study on the economic costs and benefits of school-based health centers and the effect those centers have on the health of students, the bill said.
Community health centers provide regular access to high quality healthcare for people in rural and underserved areas, regardless of their ability to pay, said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, in a news release. CHCs ensure that people can get the primary healthcare services they need, and cut down on costs for everyone by reducing the need for expensive emergency room care.
Now that the bill has passed in the Senate, some work still needs to be completed on the House side, said Craig Orfield, a spokesman in Enzis office. That could result either in a conference between the two houses or the two sides could agree to a final bill, Orfield said. -- by Jessica Zigmond