I have long labored to increase access to quality health care for citizens throughout southern West Virginia. Part of my work has entailed helping to secure Federal investments in community health centers.
Supporting our local health clinics by providing the resources they need to treat their patients not only increases access to high quality medical care, it also creates jobs and helps to grow the economy of local communities.
For these reasons, I have staunchly opposed the repeated efforts by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to make draconian budget cuts and repeal any and all Federal funding connected with the new health care law. I have been a consistent advocate for maintaining much-needed Federal investments that are supporting our community health centers — expanding their capacity to offer new services and hire additional health professionals, and to treat more patients in our rural communities.
In the Greenbrier Valley, for example, the Rainelle Medical Center is using Federal investments to hire health professionals and renovate and construct new health sites for the residents of Monroe and Summers and Greenbrier Counties, as well as Fayette and Raleigh counties.
Rainelle Medical Center is expanding access to basic dental care by hiring dental practitioners and building a new oral health facility at its Rainelle clinic. It is also renovating and constructing school-based clinics in Greenbrier County, which provide much needed access for young adults to health screenings that cover everything from vision and hearing to the management and treatment of chronic and acute illnesses.
In Webster and Nicholas Counties, Camden on Gauley Medical Center is using Federal investments to do likewise, sponsoring school-based clinics and increasing access to much-needed preventive and primary care. And so is Valley Health Systems, serving patients in Boone, Cabell, Lincoln, Wayne, Logan, and Mingo counties.
The list goes on. Lincoln County Primary Care is serving more patients because of similar Federal investments, as is New River Health Systems in Fayette and Raleigh counties.
I have a fight on my hands when it comes to ensuring the continuing flow of these investments in our communities, because the current leadership in the House is continually pushing budget cuts that would take these critical funds away from our State’s health system. Taking an ax to those programs also cuts off access to medical care for patients in rural communities, and stymieing economic growth. And it’s not just community health centers at risk.
In the most recent budget passed by the Republican House, the so-called Ryan budget is attempting to transform the current Medicaid system into a block grant program, where Federal funding to states would be capped at a fixed amount, regardless of increases in health care costs. Over time, that would means deep cuts in state Medicaid programs that would put more seniors, children, and individuals with disabilities at risk.
In fact, if the cuts envisioned by the Ryan budget are enacted into law, budget experts have warned Congress that it would force states, like ours, to make impossible choices about the future of its Medicaid program. Those tough choices could include stripping lower-income families of their health insurance, turning away potential enrollees, limiting coverage for current health services, and cutting payments to health providers, which could force our already-struggling local clinics to shut their doors.
Our State has always had to fight for Federal investments to level the playing field for our rural communities, which struggle to ensure access to affordable, high quality care for residents. We must maintain robust investments in our health providers and facilities, as well as in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
We cannot afford to have these vital programs taken away.
(Ediot’s mote: U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at (202) 225-3452, or visit http://rahall.house.gov)