Health Care: A 2018 Checkup

Rep. Morgan GriffithOn August 7, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced a $500,000 grant to the Health Wagon for construction of a health care clinic in Clintwood.

Some people think Obamacare is the only thing that matters when it comes to health care, but as this recent good news from ARC reminds us, there is plenty of activity occurring elsewhere in federal health policy.

Other federal programs related to health care and other problems in the field deserve our attention. As a member of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I have been able to engage in hands-on work related to this subject.

Start with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Since 1997, CHIP has drawn wide bipartisan support in its mission to provide health insurance to low-income children. When the time came to reauthorize CHIP in 2017, the Republican majority made a determined effort to extend the program.

We advanced it from the Energy and Commerce Committee to the House floor. It passed by a vote of 242-174, with Republicans providing 227 of the votes in favor. Under Senate rules, a minority obstructed this bill, but in another rules maneuver by the Senate, CHIP was eventually reauthorized and signed into law. In fact, its ten-year reauthorization is the longest in the program’s history.

Our work ensured that millions of low-income children would continue to be covered. This is a huge relief to many families in the Ninth District, which had an estimated 22,189 children covered by the program in 2016.

Also reauthorized this year: federally-funded Community Health Centers. For people lacking health insurance, especially those residing in rural areas, these centers are vital for care.

Community Health Centers have a strong presence in the Ninth District. According to 2017 data provided by the National Association of Community Health Centers, 31 sites in our communities served more than 76,000 patients. You can find one near you by visiting findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/.

Reauthorizing Community Health Centers was included with CHIP, so it passed on the same 242-174 vote in the House with Republican majority support as noted above. Ultimately, we were able to send it to President Trump’s desk.

Extending CHIP and Community Health Centers made sure these important programs continue to serve. But programs that do not presently require reauthorization deserve our attention as well. Oversight by my committee is important to understanding many problems in health care, and we have been conducting rigorous oversight to see that federal laws and programs are working as intended or to understand matters that may require action.

A recent Health Subcommittee hearing on mental health provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act fell into the former category. When working on Cures, I advocated for more funding and better coordination for mental health services. Since they were included in Cures and the bill became law, the Health Subcommittee is doing its oversight and recently heard testimony from the Assistant Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services tasked with implementing these mental health reforms.

Constituents frequently encourage me to take action to improve mental health services, and hearings such as these help us gather information and make sure we are headed in the right direction.

Other hearings covered important subjects such as public health, state efforts to increase health transparency, and reports of patient brokering in the substance use treatment industry. These types of hearings often bear fruit by guiding legislative efforts.

We continue to vote on bills that will help improve health care. One subject that has made recent legislative progress is palliative care, which can provide great relief to people afflicted with serious illnesses. We recently advanced a bill through the House with the aim of improving available palliative care, by providing grants for training, research, and promoting awareness.

Our work discussed in this column does not include the attention devoted to the opioid epidemic, a subject I have discussed at length before. While the items mentioned above are just some of the health care issues we are working on, they and many others are a part of our effort to make health care better.

It is true that they do not generate the same interest or passion as Obamacare. But they nevertheless loom large in the lives of many. Ask the families with children still insured by CHIP, or the patients cared for by Community Health Centers.

Legislation or oversight work that may not have drawn many headlines this year still made a great difference to benefit the health and well-being of Americans.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.