First Full Committee Healthcare Hearing of the Year Focuses on Improving Access to Healthcare
Highlights Health Centers and Providers in Underserved Communities
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently participated in a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee oversight hearing focused on health centers and healthcare providers in underserved areas. The hearing highlighted a bill introduced by HELP Committee chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray to provide funding extensions for the Community Health Center program, the National Health Service Corps, the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program, the Special Diabetes Program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.
The hearing featured witnesses Dennis Freeman, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Cherokee Health Systems; John B. Waits, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., Chief Executive Officer of Cahaba Medical Care; Andrea Anderson, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., Director of Family Medicine of Unity Health Care, Inc, Thomas Trompeter, Chief Executive Officer of HealthPoint.
Alaska has 27 organizations that receive federal funding for Community Health Centers in over 150 sites. During the hearing, Senator Murkowski discussed some of the unique and challenging dynamics for healthcare providers working in community health centers in Alaska, including difficulty surrounding recruitment and retention of physicians.
Senator Murkowski questioned the panel of witnesses on what more Congress can be doing to help improve access to healthcare in Alaska. In response, Dr. Freeman highlighted the opportunity for Alaska’s health centers to use the National Health Service Corps as a tool to help recruit and retain healthcare professionals in the state.
“With the National Health Service Corps, a great program, it is life changing for those who receive it. But when we are recruiting providers, we can’t promise them that they are going to receive it. We can tell them about it and they can apply. But if Alaska Health Centers had slots and your providers could say ‘this is loan repayment, this is part of the deal,’ I think that would really help in the recruitment there,” said Dr. Freeman. “I’ve been to several of your health centers. We’ve done consulting. I’ve been in Talkeetna and the Kenai Peninsula—wonderful places and wonderful providers. I think if you can get them there then you can keep them there. But if they could use the Corps as a certain recruitment tool, I think that would really help recruit providers.”
- Community Health Centers (CHCs) are private, non-profit entities that provide primary and preventive care to medically underserved and uninsured people. In many rural areas in Alaska, CHCs are often the only healthcare providers for hundreds of miles.
- As a senior member on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Murkowski secured significant funds to support Community Health Centers that serve an estimated 113,000 Alaskans across the state.