Dear President Bush,
Community Health Centers need you to get a retired OB/GYN physician back to delivering babies in one of those 1,500 counties without such a doctor. Rep. Michael Burgess from Texas is promoting a change in your signature program for the uninsured, community health centers. The legislator wishes to drop the patient majority board requirement unique to CHC’s. This change takes funds from health centers and spreads them to any non profit health care organization.
Community Health Centers are unique in the majority of board members are consumers of the clinic. Your health care strategies are purported to strengthen the “doctor-patient relationship”. Having a strong patient perspective at the governance level seems a wonderful way of assuring such a thing.
Rather than spread this idea, Rep. Burgess’ bill works against it. Non profit health care organizations would be able to compete for community health center funding without having a strong consumer voice on their board. Just last summer Rep. Bill Thomas held hearings on non profit healthcare and his concerns that they were not providing enough community benefit. Is the House sending mixed messages on its views of non profit health systems? Is Dr. Burgess really supporting non profit hospitals or is he interested in moving the program even further in the future?
Likely, this is just step one. Step two has for profit healthcare bidding to serve all federal health care needs. Your staffers recently met with leaders from HCA, a large for profit hospital system on your healthcare initiatives. Did they express interest in Community Health Center funding as well? Dr. Burgess even practiced at the HCA hospital in Lewisville for many years, before his election to Congress in 2002. Since his first run for the House of Representatives, Dr. Burgess received $11,550 in campaign contributions from HCA. While this pales in comparison to House Ways & Means chair Bill Thomas’ lifetime contributions of over $350,000 from hospitals/nursing homes, it does speak to the influence of non community health center campaign contributions on public policy decisions.
Recall the hearing Chairman Thomas held last summer? It sounded remarkably like the Federation of American Hospital position on behalf of its tax paying for profit hospitals. FAH happened to contribute $20,000 to Rep. Thomas the last two campaign cycles. HCA Executives and staff contributed over $500,000 to the Federation from the 2000 election to now. That is in addition to any direct contributions the company makes to individual candidates. What is the going rate for a Congressional hearing nowadays?
Should Dr. Burgess get community health center money to non-CHC’s, how long before some of it gets spent in the “more efficient” for profit sector? Only time will tell. I have a pretty good idea who Rep. Burgess and Senator Bill Frist are rooting for. What are your thoughts on maintaining your signature program and its unique patient focused governance? Write me back, I want to know.