Eastern Iowa Health Center in Cedar Rapids, IA.
Eastern Iowa Health Center in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Community Health Centers (CHCs) play a critical role in our national health care system providing needed services for uninsured and underserved Iowans. When I visit with folks across the Third District, they tell me about their struggle to find affordable and adequate care, especially in our rural communities, and the impact our CHCs have in improving their lives.

The centers ensure Iowans in rural and underserved areas have access to care while saving costs for our national health system. CHCs are a proven cost-effective provider of care, saving 24 percent in total Medicaid spending when compared to other providers.

I’ve seen firsthand the health services CHCs are providing in our communities after visiting CHCs as part of my monthly visits to each of the Third District’s 16 counties. I’ve visited and been on-site at CHCs in the district from Council Bluffs to Des Moines.  I know first-hand the quality of services available by talking to and interacting with patients, nurses, doctors, and board members.

In Iowa, 180,000 Iowans rely on CHCs – and 26 million Americans nationwide – for their primary care. There are four CHC organizations treating nearly 50,000 Iowans at 17 different locations in the Third District.

However, without action by Congress to extend funding for the centers, many of these facilities will have to lay off staff or close their doors altogether. Because Iowans have shared with me how important CHCs are to their families, I partnered with three of my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce the Community Health Investment, Modernization, and Excellence (CHIME) Act of 2017 to extend funding for CHCs for the next five years.

In the past three weeks, over 170 members of Congress from both parties have added their names to our bill, making this a truly bipartisan initiative. To further advocate for Iowa patients depending on CHCs I led a bipartisan letter to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives urging Congress to quickly take up legislation to extend funding to these centers.

CHCs also work to ensure Iowa’s youth are receiving the care they need by delivering care in our schools while also serving nearly 1 million agriculture workers and 300,000 veterans across the country.

Community Health Centers succeed because they must meet four standards: be located in a high-needs community, provide health care to all – regardless of ability to pay, provide comprehensive health care services, and be governed by a community board made up of a majority of health center patients.

In Iowa, we believe in taking care of one another and we know our communities better than anyone else. Every CHC is overseen by a board made up by members of the community who actually rely on the center for their care.

The board knows what is best for its health center and can make decisions that are based on patients, not profits. Everyone has the same access to these centers, no matter what level of income they have and with no regard to their insured status. In Iowa, CHCs serve more than a quarter of uninsured people in Iowa. How much individuals pay is based on their level of income and over 70 percent of CHC patients fall below the federal poverty line.

CHCs don’t just offer primary care, they provide a full range of services such as dental, mental health, nutrition and even specialty care. And because folks in the community run the center, each center has tailored its services to the needs of the community which is why patients at CHCs have better outcomes as a result of focusing on prevention, education, and managing of chronic diseases.

At a time when premiums are increasing for all Iowans and health care choices are decreasing, the demands on our Community Health Centers are only increasing. I remain committed to advocating for our CHCs so Iowans have access to needed and quality health services. As Iowa’s Community Health Centers continue providing truly life-saving services to Iowans who are at the most risk, I’ll continue working to ensure they have the resources they need to serve these patients.

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