WASHINGTON (April 14, 2008) — A proposed federal rule could disrupt health center funding and jeopardize health care for millions of poor and underserved populations across the nation. A new study from The George Washington University Medical Center’s School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) provides the first up-to-date estimates of the effects of the new regulations and their impact on safety net providers and vulnerable populations. The study is the second in a continuing series of health policy research briefs prepared by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative.

The GW policy brief, “Analysis of the Proposed Rule on Designation of Medically Underserved Populations and Health Professional Shortage Areas,” examines a proposed rule issued on February 29, 2008, which creates a new method to designate Health Professional Shortage Areas and Medically Underserved Areas or Populations. These designations are used by the federal government to prioritize the distribution of federal and state funds to communities nationwide, with vulnerable populations with high health care needs.

At present, all health center sites that provide the full range of primary care services are counted as being in medically underserved areas and their communities are targeted for priority funding. The new rule would create a three-tier designation system: “Tier 1,” “Tier 2,” and “Safety Net Facility.” Under the proposed system:

• Almost one-third of health centers would fail to meet either “Tier 1” or “Tier 2” status and therefore would lose priority funding. Instead, they would be designated as “safety net facilities,” the lowest priority level, and thus could potentially lose eligibility for additional federal funding to meet community and patient need.

• The proposed rules would disproportionately affect urban areas and states in the northeast and northwest. In 15 states, more than half of existing health centers would fall into “safety net facility” status and would thus be in jeopardy.

The regulation is based on 1999 data. Using more recent data, the authors show that the effects are much more severe than anticipated by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Sara Rosenbaum, JD, Hirsh Professor and chair, Department of Health Policy, said: “Despite a 10-million person increase in the number of uninsured persons over the past decade and widespread primary health care shortages in thousands of communities, the new rule has the perverse effect of reducing rather than expanding eligibility for aid.”

“The proposed methodology jeopardizes health centers across the country, endangering their ability to serve the nation’s most vulnerable patients,” said Julio Bellber, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation. “The rule would seriously impair current health center expansion initiatives just when they are most needed.”

The 60-day comment period for the rule is open until April 29, 2008.

The full report can be downloaded at: http://www.gwumc.edu/sphhs/departments/healthpolicy/chsrp/downloads/MUAreport41108.pdf.

About the RCHN Community Health Foundation
The RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF) is a New York-based not-for-profit operating foundation dedicated to supporting and benefiting community health centers (CHCs) in New York state and nationally. The Foundation develops and supports programmatic and business initiatives related to community health center access, pharmacy and health information technology through strategic investment, research, outreach, education, and coalition building and advocacy. For more information about RCHN CHF, contact Chief Operating Officer Feygele Jacobs at 212-246-1122 ext. 712 or fjacobs@rchnfoundation.org.

About The George Washington University Medical Center
The George Washington University Medical Center is an internationally recognized interdisciplinary academic health center that has consistently provided high-quality medical care in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 176 years. The Medical Center comprises the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the 11th oldest medical school in the country; the School of Public Health and Health Services, the only such school in the nation’s capital; GW Hospital, jointly owned and operated by a partnership between The George Washington University and a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.; and the GW Medical Faculty Associates, an independent faculty practice plan. For more information on GWUMC, visit www.gwumc.edu.

All news releases available online at www.gwumc.edu/mccm.