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Dr. White in ADG: Our patients deserve our never-wavering support, diligence, and care

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

OPINION | GUEST WRITER: Worth fighting for

Community Health Centers vital by Lanita S. White Special to the Democrat-Gazette | June 9, 2023 at 2:32 a.m.

Dr. Lanita S. White

For years, I've been a news junkie, a voracious consumer of topical commentary. But lately, it's been depressing to watch. The heated acrimony has greatly increased without any sign of simmering down.

One side wants to expand all sorts of programs. The other side wants to slash budgets.

There are plenty of disheartening reports about people losing Medicaid coverage because of the end of the covid-19 public health emergency.

While not receiving as much media attention, restrictions on 340B prescription drug discounts continue to hamper Community Health Center operations and harm our patients.

It's all got me anxious about the future of Community Health Centers (CHCs).

But there is good news. Republicans and Democrats have come together in general support of CHCs. Our national association reports universal praise in our nation's capital for the excellent work by CHCs in caring for the underserved, uninsured, underinsured, isolated, and historically disadvantaged members of society whether by race, geographic location, or socioeconomic status.

Back in March, during a national CHC convention in Washington, I joined other CHC leaders from Arkansas to visit our congressmen and senators. Our goal? Tell our story, share the good news about CHCs, and advocate for our clinics and our patients.

CHCs are worth fighting for.

We do so much to support people and communities throughout Arkansas. The 12 CHC organizations in Arkansas serve more than 285,000 patients at more than 200 clinics throughout the state.

We know policymakers recognize our value.

We especially thank U.S. Sen. John Boozman, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman for their constant support of CHCs. They were recently honored with awards by the National Association of Community Health Centers.

But that doesn't mean we stop asking for adequate resources to do the job right.

Federal grant funding for CHCs runs out in September. We desperately request that Congress come together to continue and, if possible, expand funding so we can best serve Arkansans with primary care, behavioral health, dental, and other specialty health programs.

We have a proven track record of being a worthwhile investment. Nationally, CHCs serve 30 million patients from all income levels, whether they pay with private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. We aren't free clinics, but if patients can't afford their bills, our mission calls for reduced fees on a sliding scale based on income.

Quality primary care keeps people out of the emergency room and reduces the chance of expensive long-term hospitals stays.

CHCs save the U.S. health-care system $24 billion annually.

We are so very thankful that Arkansas expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid reimbursements for patients have helped make our CHCs financially sound and able to increase services for Arkansans, whether over in the Delta or up in the Ozarks.

We hate to hear that more than 72,000 Arkansans lost Medicaid coverage in the first month of eligibility redetermination. This is due to the end of the public health emergency. We understand that many of those folks now make too much money to qualify. Others, however, still need coverage but haven't turned in their updated information to the state, or maybe they can't be located.

CHCs in Arkansas are constantly reminding their patients to contact the Department of Human Services (DHS) to update their addresses, income, and other necessary information to keep coverage. If patients are no longer eligible for Medicaid, our outreach and enrollment specialists work closely to help obtain the best private health insurance for their needs.

While this process is not without difficulties, we thank the people at DHS for their diligence and efforts to keep those eligible for Medicaid on the coverage rolls. We urge all Medicaid patients to contact the department or their local CHC for help.

(DROP CAP) On another front, CHCs are continuing our defense of Act 1103 of 2021, a state law passed overwhelmingly by the Arkansas Legislature. It aims to protect pharmaceutical discounts in Arkansas through what's known as the 340B program.

Back in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry restricted discounts and placed conditions on CHCs and hospitals dependent on 340B. The program provides affordable prescription drugs and essential revenue to health-care providers that serve disadvantaged and hard-to-reach populations.

Importantly, 340B is not government money. In fact, it saves taxpayers from paying more for health care.

Predictably, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association (PhRMA) sued over the law. CHCs are standing strong for our patients as an intervenor in the case. We've worked closely with the Arkansas Insurance Department to defend the law, and we thank Commissioner Alan McClain for his support.

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson in Little Rock ruled in our favor a few months back, but PhRMA has appealed. PhRMA is known for dragging things out in court, but we won't back down or give up.

Our patients deserve our never-wavering support, diligence, and care.

Dr. Lanita S. White, PharmD, is the chief executive officer of Community Health Centers of Arkansas, a nonprofit organization in North Little Rock representing the state's federally qualified health centers.


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