Community-based health centers could better meet the needs of patients in underserved areas under a bill approved by the Senate on Monday, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Judy Ward (R-30).

Senate Bill 273 would make improvements to the Community-Based Health Care Program, which was created in 2013 to expand and improve access to healthcare services. The program provides funding to community health clinics in several different categories in order to ensure healthcare services are available and to reduce the unnecessary use of hospital emergency rooms for non-emergent care.

Under the program, the amount of grant funding available to federally qualified health centers and look-alike facilities was capped at 25 percent of the total distributed by the program. This funding cap has limited the ability of many federally qualified health centers to serve patients.

Ward’s bill would remove the cap on funding and ensure all applications can be considered in a competitive review process regardless of the type of provider.

“In many cases, these health centers are the only applicants for funding because they are the only providers capable of meeting the demand for services in a given area,” Ward said. “This bill will level the playing field and help these centers improve access to affordable, quality primary medical, dental and behavioral health services for all.”

The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers.

Senate Bill 273 was sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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