Sanders pushes health centers (Burlington Free Press)

By Terri Hallenbeck

MONTPELIER -- At seven health-care centers around the state, Vermonters receive treatment on a sliding fee scale based on their income. Sen. Bernie Sanders is pushing for such centers in every region of the state.

"We are making progress," Sanders said Monday. Two years ago, Vermont had just two centers, including the Community Health Center of Burlington. Within a couple of years, Sanders said he hopes there will be nine.

Sanders said he's advocating for a $225 million increase in funding for Federally Qualified Health Care Centers nationally. Last year, the centers received a $77 million increase in funding.

Sanders heralded the centers as a great help not only to those who lack health insurance, but to those who live in areas where there is a shortage of doctors.

Twelve percent of Vermonters use the health-care centers, and only about 10 percent of them are uninsured, Sanders said. In Essex County, Sanders aide David Reynolds said, there are no other doctors or dentists besides the center in Island Pond, and two-thirds of the people in Caledonia and Essex counties use the federally funded health care center.

Sanders said he is also pushing for a doubling of funding for the National Health Service Corps, which places doctors and dentists in underserved areas.

Dr. Anne Galante, who's helping to coordinate a new center in Bristol, said some Addison County towns suffer from a shortage of medical care. Her group expects to submit an application by the end of the year toward becoming a Federally Qualified Health Care Center.

Springfield Hospital is also applying to open a center. If those two efforts succeed, only Bennington County will be without service, Sanders said, and he hopes that will change within a couple of years.

The centers are funded through Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, patient fees and grants.