Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders accomplished what no one else in Washington seems to be able to do: Providing his constituents with affordable universal health care coverage.
In exchange for his vote on the diluted Senate health care bill, Sanders asked for and received just what the doctor ordered — $10 billion to increase the number of community health care centers nationwide, including at least two more for Vermont. It means health care for 25 million Americans nationwide, if the bill passes.
The Green Mountain State already has eight of those centers, which provide primary care, dental and low-cost prescription drugs. Nobody is turned away, since the centers accept as payment Medicare, Medicaid or nothing at all from people who are uninsured. More than 100,000 Vermonters get their primary care at these health care centers.
Sanders, a self-described socialist who by virtue of the fragile Democratic coalition in the Senate finds himself with more clout than ever before, isn’t stopping there. Now he’s pushing to expand by 20,000 the ranks of doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical professionals who are part of the National Health Service Corps.
Sanders wants to thank those medical professionals for their commitment to providing Americans with quality, affordable health care by forgiving or reducing the obscene debts they face from the cost of attending college and medical school.
“When we more than double in five years the number of people who have access to community health centers — and within that same period of time we add an additional 20,000 primary care doctors, dentists, nurses — we are talking about nothing less than a revolution in primary health care in America — something which we have needed for a long, long time,” Sanders said today on the Senate floor.
The House health care bill includes $14 billion, $4 billion more than the Senate version, to pay for the expanded health care centers and increase the National Health Service Corps. A well-placed source says there is a very good chance the final House and Senate compromise will match the $14 billion in the House bill.
Sanders’ effort is a tribute to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who 40 years ago first proposed the system of community health care centers, formally known as Federally Qualified Health Centers. “Now we’re going to take it a giant step forward,” Sanders promised.