Community Health Centers are a great prescription for good public health

As the representative of the 23rd District of Texas, I’ve learned that when it comes to health care, folks want policies that increase access to, improve the quality of and decrease costs of care. I have seen firsthand how Community Health Centers do just that by delivering high-quality, affordable and accessible services.

Centro San Vicente in El Paso is one of about 73 Community Health Centers in Texas, and 39 delivery sites in my district, providing primary and preventative services for those who otherwise may not have access to care, including pediatrics, women’s health, general medical care, behavioral health, vision, dental, pharmacy and lab testing. Community Health Centers in our state have more than 500 delivery sites and serve more than 1.4 million patients annually.

Health centers save lives and stimulate local economies in communities throughout Texas. Locally run, they are part of a national network that serves 1 in 12 Americans, or 28 million people. They save American taxpayers $24 billion a year in health care costs by preventing and managing chronic diseases. These are not ordinary medical clinics — they are also problem-solvers that reach beyond the exam room to address health factors such as lack of nutrition, mental illness, homelessness and substance abuse disorders.

Community Health Centers have been an American success story for more than 50 years and are a vital part of our local communities. They also rely on federal funding in order to close the access gap for the medically vulnerable, which is why I have consistently supported these funding efforts in Congress and have been recognized by the National Association of Community Health Centers each year since 2015.

The centers are vital to the health and wellness of hundreds of thousands of El Paso residents, including Charles Ortiz, a 52-year-old graphic who that has lived in El Paso all of his life. According to the American Diabetes Association, 2,990,000 people in Texas, or 14.6% of the adult population, have diabetes. Until a 2017 dental visit to Centro San Vicente, Ortiz was one of an estimated 663,000 Texans whose diabetes went undiagnosed.

When visiting dentist Dr. Sandra Gonzalez for treatment, Ortiz learned that he exhibited a symptom indicating he could possibly have diabetes. Gonzalez checked his blood sugar, which was an alarming 263 milligrams per deciliter, more than two times higher than what normal blood sugar levels should be. Gonzalez sent him directly to San Vicente’s Doris Clippard. Clippard, a nurse practitioner, confirmed diabetes and prescribed a dietary overhaul along with exercise, as well as oral diabetes medicine to help control blood sugar levels.

Like 42% of all Texas CHC patients, Ortiz is uninsured.

Community Health Centers charge uninsured patients on a sliding-scale based on income to ensure that care is affordable regardless of coverage. Ortiz simply paid a $25 co-pay for each visit and was able to take advantage of a 75% discount on his medications, which he otherwise could not have afforded. He stuck with the plan, switching to a plant-based diet, and now walks up to seven miles a day. He currently enjoys robust health, and regular visits to Centro San Vicente now show normal blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Ortiz’s successful outcome is just one of thousands of the health centers' success stories in managing chronic disease in medically vulnerable communities. In Texas, Community Health Centers’ mission is crucial today because access to basic care remains a challenge in parts of the state.

I have been fortunate to visit with many of the employees who work at health centers in Texas and their work as problem-solvers in public health — whether it is addressing chronic disease management with innovative treatments or bringing needed dental services to children in schools — has made a tremendous local impact.

Texans shouldn’t have to decide whether to go to the doctor or put food on the table. That is why I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 2700, a bill introduced by fellow Texas U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-District 26, to lower prescription drug costs and extend funding for Community Health Centers and other public health priorities through fiscal year 2020. The only way we get big things done is by working together, and I plan to work with my colleagues in Congress to do whatever it takes to support long-term and robust funding for health centers and their patients before Sept. 30, when the Community Health Center Fund expires. We must not only support health care solutions with proven results, but invest in them. Our public health depends on it.

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