COMMENTARY: Health care that works

Working families, seniors and the disabled all too often struggle to attain access to quality health care. As a member of Congress, one of my top priorities is ensuring funding for community health centers, which provide much needed care.

Recently, the House of Representatives approved a short-term extension to continue operations at these facilities through November, but Congress must pass legislation to protect the long-term future of the program.

Community health centers are an American health care success story. As Congress continues to debate ways to improve health care quality and access to services, there is one solution that virtually everyone agrees is effective: Community health centers.

The 34th Congressional District is home to five health center organizations. Brownsville Community Health Center, Community Action Corp. of South Texas, Nuestra Clinica del Valle, Su Clinica and Valley AIDS Council provide care at 17 locations, and in 2018 alone they served 92,951 patients.

The ability to access those services matters immensely to each of those individuals such as Lydia, a retired 61-year-old woman with minimal monthly income and a family history of breast cancer. She was seen at Su Clinica for her annual mammogram, and unfortunately the test revealed that she had cancer. Lydia was immediately concerned she would not be able to afford treatment, but Su Clinica guided her through the process. With their assistance, she was approved for the Medicaid Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, received treatment, and is now thankfully in remission.

The impact that these organizations have on the lives of our neighbors and in the health of our community cannot be overstated.

For more than 50 years, our nation’s community health centers have provided comprehensive health service including primary and preventive care, behavioral health and dental care to vulnerable and underserved individuals in more than 12,000 communities across the country. Thanks to these health centers, more than 29 million patients nationally receive quality preventative care, which lowers the need for costly emergency room visits.

When patients covered by Medicaid get their care at a health center, their total cost of care goes down by 24 percent. Health centers provide integrated care that leads to better health outcomes for patients and cost savings for the health care system and American taxpayers.

I applaud my colleagues for prioritizing funding for community health centers. Congressional leadership and our resolve to create this temporary solution point to the urgency and importance of continuing to fund our nation’s community health centers. Congress must continue efforts to develop a comprehensive long-term plan to support these facilities and the patients they serve.

For decades, Congress has invested in health centers that ensure communities have vital services, and support for these programs is not tied to party affiliation.

I support extending funding for health centers for at least five years, with increases over time to allow for growth, so that our neighbors have a stable and reliable place to go for care. I am committed to working together with my colleagues in Congress to get this done.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela represents the 34th Texas congressional district, which includes the eastern part of the Rio Grande Valley.