During NACHC’s Friday session, advocates from all across the nation had the opportunity to hear from a few of the biggest names in healthcare. First up was the recently confirmed Secretary Alex Michael Azar II of Health and Human Services (HHS). A strong proponent of community health centers, Secretary Azar stated, “We see you not just as vital partners in our movement toward a health system that delivers quality, affordable care for all Americans—we see you as pioneers in this effort already.” (X)
He noted how health centers were leading the charge in quality data collection, improving patient outcomes, and transparency/communicating information, such as pricing. Recalling one encounter, Secretary Azar, having served as Deputy Director of HHS, was in need of an echocardiogram. While completing the registration process, he discovered he would need to be admitted in order to undergo the procedure. Knowing the, likely, high costs associated with the process being outlined for the procedure, he made several attempts to determine the overall rate but was told that information was not available. After much persistence, he was told the procedure would cost approximately $5,500. He then asked for the cost at the rate negotiated with his insurance company but, once again, was met with “that information is unavailable”.
After some individual research, he was able to find a local provider’s office that would deliver the service for around $500. Due to his profession, he had experience in accessing sites and resources with said information but noted, for your average patient, that degree of research is unfeasible, and that’s where health centers come in. Health centers work diligently to try and help ensure patients from each end of the socioeconomic spectrum receive quality care at a price that comes as close to fitting their budget, as possible.
Before departing, Secretary Azar reported he had the distinction of testifying the day before on the President’s budget yesterday and was supportive of the $400 million set aside for centers to help combat substance abuse, as well as the $150 million earmarked for under-served rural areas.
In his role as Secretary, Mr. Azar is looking forward to seeing, as well as assisting in, the continued expansion of health centers and is hoping we can set a goal of assisting 30 million patients nationally (up from 27 million) by year’s end.
Next to take the stage was Dr. George Sigounas, Administrator of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Like Secretary Azar, Dr. Sigounas spoke very highly of community health centers. Dr. Sigounas specifically spoke to health centers and telehealth. Stating he had worked with HRSA since telehealth department was in its infancy and the concept was still very much considered “science fiction”, he was proud to see 57% of health centers already utilizing or were in the process of implementing telehealth in some way. As is one of the tenets of community health centers, quality affordable care should be accessible to everyone, and if that means combating barriers such as geography or lack of suitable transportation, community health centers will attempt to do all that they can to address those issues.
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