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July 22, 2008
By Jim McLean
KHI News Service
July 22, 2008
TOPEKA A bill that would reauthorize the federal program that provides funding to safety net clinics is finally on the move in Congress.
The U.S. Senate on Monday passed its version of the reauthorization measure, S. 901, on a voice vote. The companion House version bill H.R. 1343 won approval 393-24 on June 4. All four members of the Kansas House delegation voted for the measure.
The Senate bill authorizes $15 billion for safety net clinics, the National Health Service Corps and rural health programs through the 2012 budget year. The measure, which has been pending since last year, renews the Public Health Service Act, which expired in 2006.
"These centers provide critical services to Kansans each day, regardless of a patient"s insurance status or ability to pay," said U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a co-sponsor of the reauthorization bill. "It is my hope that passage of this bill will allow this program to expand to other Kansas communities."
Currently, only 13 of the approximately 36 safety net clinics that provide health care services to uninsured and low-income Kansans are eligible to receive federal funding, according to Val Renault of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved.
More than 300,000 Kansans lack health insurance. The safety net clinics serve them and those Kansans enrolled in Medicaid, the federal program administered and partially funded by the state for low-income children, new mothers and the disabled.
More than 165,000 patients were treated at Kansas safety net clinics in 2006, the last year for which the association for the medically underserved has numbers.
Kansas legislators recently provided safety net clinics with an additional $2.5 million in state money to expand the capacity of existing clinics and to help a few gain the certification necessary to receive federal funding and Medicaid payments.
Separate bills pending in the U.S. Congress would authorize substantial increases in federal funding for safety net clinics in the 2009 budget year. The Senate bill contains an additional $150 million; the House bill $100 million, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.
President Bush requested an FY 2009 increase of $26.8 million.
-Jim McLean is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 785-233-5443, ext. 110.