In just the past year, we were able to not only double our membership but also double our staff to better serve our members. We recently had a chance to talk to Advocates for Community Health (ACH) Senior Vice President of Policy & Government Affairs Stephanie Krenrich about her one-year work anniversary.

As you look back at your first year since joining the ACH team, what one thing makes you most proud about working at ACH? What has been the most challenging part so far?

I am incredibly proud to work as part of ACH’s smart, dynamic, dedicated team on behalf of the nation’s community health centers. Health centers work tirelessly to address the complex health and social needs of the people in their communities, and helping support that work is so gratifying. While it is hard to choose just one thing I am proud of, I would say I am most proud of the different ways we have found to effectively communicate health centers’ successes and challenges to Capitol Hill, especially given how much information comes their way every day. It is so critical that members of Congress hear from health centers about what they really need, and this steady drumbeat of compelling data and a persuasive narrative, coupled with a strong “ask,” is what helps move us toward real policy change that can help health centers continue to thrive.

As for the most challenging part of working here at ACH, I would say that it is figuring out how to do everything we want to do when we only have so many hours in a day. But we have a strong team and a strong agenda, and we are making really good progress towards our goals. One day at a time!

As the Community Health Center Fund Reauthorization deadline quickly approaches on March 8, what message would you give our legislators at this time?

Health centers cannot afford to wait. Congress has yet to negotiate a long-term and sustainable funding agreement for community health centers, and the more than 1,400 community health centers nationwide can’t afford to be placed on standby by yet another continuing resolution.

ACH will continue to communicate health centers’ urgent needs to Congress, so they understand the true impact of ongoing inflation, 340B savings erosion, workforce shortages, the Medicaid redetermination process, and other factors that are creating historic budget shortfalls at health centers nationwide, and why a meaningful increase for health centers is so important.

If a long-term solution can’t be agreed upon soon, access to health care could be at risk in communities throughout the United States. As a matter of fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about 9 million people will lose access to care if this funding is allowed to expire.

Plus, we want Congress to know that community health centers are the best investment you can make in health care. According to a recent report by CBO, evidence suggests that care at health centers leads to more cost-effective care and ultimately to lower federal spending for the Medicaid and Medicare populations they serve, and that the use of health care provided by health centers generally is associated with lower spending in emergency departments, in inpatient hospital settings, and for other outpatient services. This is a key message we carry to Capitol Hill every day.

The 340B program is also an essential part of health centers’ funding streams. What can you share about ACH’s work to advance our 340C proposal? Why is 340C a good addition to 340B?

Advocates for Community Health envisions a health care system where the 340B program works exactly as it was designed and enables health centers to continue to invest dollars back into care for vulnerable patients.

Our 340C proposal can help get us there. Currently, health centers’ ability to access and leverage the 340B program is eroding, and time is really of the essence. State policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are implementing policies that lessen the savings that health centers can derive from the program. The 340B program allows centers to stretch scarce federal dollars and provide vital services that otherwise would be difficult to fund, and without it, patient care will suffer.

“340C” proposes a voluntary subset of the 340B program, where covered entities can opt-in to greater transparency and accountability measures, and in return have unlimited access to contract pharmacies, protection from PBM and insurance company policies that lessen reimbursement, and strong reimbursement from the Medicaid program without state carve outs. This proposal is supported by over 100 national, state, and local stakeholders and counting. Read more about our 340C proposal here.

What is next for ACH?

ACH is continuing our work on Capitol Hill to ensure a strong Community Health Center Trust Fund reauthorization as we approach the next funding deadline on March 8. We are also working with Congressional champions on several pieces of legislation that we hope to have introduced this year, including bills to bolster the health center workforce and to help health centers weather the next natural disaster or health emergency. In addition, ACH is preparing our response to the Senate 340B Working Group’s newly released legislative text and request for information, which included several provisions that echo our 340C proposal and could have a real impact on health centers’ ability to continue to benefit from the 340B program. Plus, we are preparing for our upcoming Annual Member Meeting and Hill Day in Washington, DC, which takes place March 5-7. It will include two days of engaging speakers, panel discussions, and networking opportunities for our members and one day dedicated to meeting in person with members of Congress and their staff. Never a dull moment!

Lastly, a quick note that on Tuesday, February 20, ACH is hosting a virtual press conference alongside the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved and the American Association of Teaching Health Centers on the crucial need for increased funding for federal health center programs, which will be livestreamed on ACH’s LinkedIn page at 10 a.m. EST. Click here to register.

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