Coming out of Tuesday’s election all of us at NACHC have had a steady flow of emails and calls from Health Center Advocates across the country asking nearly the same three questions; what does this mean for health centers? What does this mean for our patients? What should we be doing?
For today, it’s far too early to know what Congress and the Administration have in mind for Health Centers, or for the patients we currently serve and those that still lack access to care. NACHC's outreach to EVERYONE sitting in Congress, candidates and now the victors of the election began months ago – to ensure that Health Centers and our patients were understood and recognized as a part of any effort toward systemic change or new programming – that rightly so, health centers are and should continue to be at the center, serving as the foundation of any effort to change or improve our nation’s healthcare system. That work continues today and is even more exciting as we welcome the opportunity to work with a new class of policymakers and a new Administration.
But the third question – what should we be doing? That answer remains not only unchanged, but ever more clear and critical as we begin work with a new Congress, a new Administration and countless new Governors and State Legislators. The answer is building your advocacy capacity, actively engaging in advocacy at every level of government – from your city councilors to your county selectmen, from your state legislators and governor to your Members of Congress. Today, as the nation’s policymakers consider what they will do upon taking office in a few short weeks – YOUR ADVOCACY; your efforts to educate on what we do well as Health Centers, where we need support and resources and how they are used, the role Health Centers play for their patients and in their community, and what is at stake should Congress or the State falter in its support for Health Centers – these conversations, THIS ADVOCACY, has never been more important.
Without question there are many “red flags” that should have all of us on high advocacy alert – the return of the Primary Care Funding Cliff, which equates to a 70% reduction in funding for the Health Center Program and is slated to take effect in October 2017 should Congress fail to act; many uncertainties about the future structure and support for entitlement programs, Medicaid and Medicare, both of which are vital to Health Center patients and to financial solvency; and likely challenges to the Affordable Care Act which has enabled more than 20 million Americans, including millions of Health Center patients, to leverage health insurance coverage, in many cases for the first time ever. No matter the challenges, we believe in and we all have witnessed our ability to be successful.
To be clear, effective Health Center Advocacy is coming together as a network of hundreds of thousands of advocates, it’s using one voice to deliver the Health Center message, it’s engaging each of the relationships you have built with policymakers at every level of government, it’s fighting like hell for our future because we know that our mission and our work is just. When we do this, our advocacy is among the most effective and we are among the most powerful and influential voices in the nation.
So, to question number 3…what should you be doing? Building your advocacy capacity: Recruiting new advocates to add their voice to the Health Center Advocacy Network, establishing an advocacy plan that engages EVERYONE at your Health Center – staff, board, patients, volunteers and partners, collecting and analyzing your Health Center data to help illustrate what’s at stake, MAKING A PUBLIC COMMITMENT from the top down that ADVOCACY is a Health Center priority. Advocating for your Health Center and your patients: Telling your Health Center story - Educating policymakers about the success of your Health Center, how effectively – in terms of both cost and quality – you care for your patients and community, sharing what’s at stake should Congress decide to block grant the Medicaid program, or fail to act to fix the Primary Care Funding Cliff and what a 70% reduction in funding would mean to your Health Center. Making plans NOW to attend the 2017 NACHC Policy & Issues Forum in Washington D.C. – in this critical time for Health Centers and our patients, we need to turn out our advocacy troops in force this March to be sure we deliver the Health Center message to Congress and the Administration loud and clear!
The future of the Health Center Program belongs to YOU, our advocates. While many answers and information are yet to come, one answer is clear – that our path forward is advocacy.
Let’s all get to work.