Spanberger, Wittman call on HHS to distribute funding to clinics on front lines of COVID-19

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Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Rep. Rob Wittman are urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to distribute funding to free clinics and improve access to high-quality treatment for hundreds of thousands of Virginians who rely on them for care.

In their letter sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Wittman (R-VA-01) emphasized the critical role free and charitable clinics have played in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia, particularly as a safety net for the uninsured. Additionally, they outlined the financial pressures faced by these clinics as they experience a decline in charitable giving, surges in new patients, and heightened demand for their healthcare services — which now range from COVID-19 testing to expanded telehealth appointments.

Spanberger and Wittman also demanded answers from HHS about the barriers that exist to award grant funding directly to these community-focused clinics, which have been largely left out of HHS’ recent funding distributions to U.S. healthcare providers.

“The free and charitable clinics in Virginia are an essential part of the health care safety net, especially for the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who remain uninsured. Since the current public health emergency began, hundreds of thousands of our constituents have lost their jobs and their access to health insurance – meaning demand for care from free clinics is only likely to increase,” said Spanberger, Wittman, and their colleagues. “Additionally, we’ve seen that African American, Hispanic, and low-income communities are suffering from disproportionately higher coronavirus infection rates and are experiencing worse outcomes than the general population. Free and charitable clinics have long served these marginalized communities and are therefore on the front lines of addressing these disparities.”

Their letter continues, “Unfortunately, free clinics are not immune to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clinics have had to cancel their fundraising events while at the same time the slowdown in economic growth has caused a decline in charitable giving. The drop in state and local governments’ revenues means that the clinics can no longer count on an annual discretionary appropriation from the legislature or their localities. Without financial relief, our free clinics will struggle to meet the health care needs of the increased number of uninsured patients they can expect to come through their doors in the coming months.”

The Spanberger-Wittman effort has been backed by the Virginia Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, which advocates for the concerns of free and charitable clinics in communities throughout the Commonwealth.

“We are extremely grateful for the support of both Congresswoman Spanberger and Congressman Wittman as they advocate on behalf of Virginia’s network of free and charitable clinics,” said Rufus Phillips, CEO, Virginia Association of Free & Charitable Clinics. “Free clinics across the Commonwealth have stepped up in a big way in regards to their response to the pandemic. From shifting quickly to telemedicine to obtaining necessary personal protective equipment to curbside pickup and home delivery of medications, free clinics have risen to the challenge of safely providing ongoing, routine and preventative healthcare to the states uninsured population during COVID-19.”

The bipartisan letter was also signed by Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11) and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA-10).


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