Community health centers provide quality primary care at a significant savings for millions of Americans. Their doors are open to all, including patients with Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, and those who have no insurance at all.
But 60 million Americans still lack meaningful access to primary health care, dental care, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs. By increasing funding to less than 0.5 percent of overall U.S. spending on medical care, we could provide primary health care to every American who needs it.
Also, there is a serious doctor, dentist and nursing shortage in the United States. To address this, we must move aggressively to strengthen the National Health Service Corps. The corps provides debt forgiveness and grants for medical and dental students in exchange for practicing in underserved areas.
Senator Sanders has introduced legislation to do just that. Working with House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Chairman Ted Kennedy and others, Sanders' Access for All America Act would provide access to primary health care to every American. To read the Sanders-Clyburn op-ed, click here.
The Community Health Centers Program Today:
- 18 million Americans today are served through 1,100 Federally Qualified Community Health Centers on a $2 billion budget;
- Established by Senator Ted Kennedy over 40 years ago
- President Obama’s economic recovery plan invests $2 billion in the program.
- President Bush significantly expanded the bi-partisan program.
- Patients are not turned away and payment is made on a sliding scale according to income.
- Provides doctors, dentists, mental health counselors and low-cost prescription drugs in underserved communities.
- Like a hub and spoke, most centers have satellite offices or clinics providing greater access to services.
- Effective and Efficient: the program helps Americans through preventative efforts, treating patients at a community health center rather than emergency room and by addressing illness before hospitalization is needed.
The Access for All America Act:
- Over a five year period, the act would expand the program so that every American in a medically-underserved area has access to care.
- Introduced by Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina in the House of Representatives.
- Community Health Center authorization would rise from the current $2.065 billion to $8.333 billion in the fifth year, assuring access to comprehensive primary medical, dental, and mental health care as well as low cost prescription drugs to all 60 million Americans living in medically-underserved areas.
- The National Health Service Corps authorization would increase over the next five years from the current $125 million to $1.155 billion to train an additional 24,000 loan-repayment and scholarship assignees.
- The text of the bill is available here.
What the Access for All America Act Achieves by 2015:
- The number of health centers programs would expand from 1,100 to 4,800
- The number of people receiving services would increase from 18 million to 60 million.
- The number of underserved communities would fall to zero.
- Heath service corps-supported primary care clinicians would grow from 4,000 to 28,000.
- Savings of between $45 and $80 billion would be achieved by reducing inappropriate emergency room use and unnecessary hospitalization.
- The Medicaid program would save over $16 billion per year. Studies show that total costs for Medicaid patients seen at health centers are 30 percent lower (about $1,000 per person) than Medicaid patients seen elsewhere. Health centers now serve 5 million Medicaid patients.
- This plan would create 370,000 new jobs in the most economically-challenged communities, based on a study by George Washington University. The average health center employs about 100 clinical, administrative, and support staff.
Health Centers in Vermont Today
- About one in eight Vermonters – more than 80,000 patients – now receive care at a Federally Qualified Health Center regardless of income or insurance coverage. Read more here.
- Since 2002, the number of health center organizations in Vermont has expanded from two to seven, with a total of twenty-nine sites across the state. See the list here.
- A new, first-of-its-kind “Community Health Pharmacy” has opened in Colchester which will be able to provide the lowest cost prescription drug prices in the country. It is a cooperative endeavor run by the health centers in Chittenden, Washington, Lamoille, Essex-Caledonia, and Franklin-Grand Isle counties. Patients visiting these health centers can order their prescriptions electronically at the center, and receive discounted drugs by mail at home the next day. Read more here.
- As part of the cooperative pharmacy initiative, the Plainfield Health Center is using a dispensing machine as a satellite to the pharmacy. Read more here.
- In March of 2009, Springfield Medical Center became the first already-operating hospital in the nation to become a federally-qualified health center. The hospital will be the largest center in the state.