Flanked by doctors and Lamoille County community leaders, Senator Bernie Sanders announced that a community health center based in Morrisville is now a full partner in a nationwide program that provides basic medical care, dental services, and low-cost prescription drugs.
There were only two centers in Vermont six years ago, now there are seven. Sanders said he is determined to see at least three more created in the coming years - in Windsor and Windham counties, in Addison county, and in Bennington county. Bernie said, "My goal is to see that every Vermonter, regardless of income, has access to high quality primary health and dental care. We've made great progress in this area but we still have a ways to go."
Community Health Services of the Lamoille Valley was awarded $487,500 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make it the seventh Federally Qualified Health Center in Vermont. In addition, Sanders put a provision in the department budget for this year adding another $71,000 for the Morrisville center's outreach program to expand mental health services. In the future, the center will be in line for $650,000 a year under the cost-effective and successful federal program.
Sanders has been a leading advocate for health centers. There were only two centers in Vermont six years ago. "The number of people now who are able to get high-quality health care has significantly expanded. We are making progress," Sanders said, "but we all recognize that we have a long way to go."
Regardless of income or insurance coverage, about one in seven Vermonters - more than 80,000 patients - now receive care at a Federally Qualified Health Center. Kevin Kelley, the Morrisville CEO, said about 2,100 of the 17,400 patients his center serves have no health insurance. Many more are underinsured. "This will be a great addition to the services we provide and will sustain the program in the future," Kelley said.
Legislation to expand the program nationwide recently was introduced by Sanders (I-Vt.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), health committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and other key senators.
The Access for All America Act would provide primary health care for all Americans at a significant savings. The measure also would address a critical shortage of primary care physicians by encouraging more students to enter medical professions by providing scholarships and help repaying loans. Under the bill, the Federally Qualified Health Centers program would be expanded to serve the 56 million Americans living in areas that lack adequate services. It also would allow private doctors to serve more of the nation's low-income and uninsured population.
"This country faces a major health care crisis," Sanders said. "The Access for All America Act would make certain that every man, woman, and child in this country has access to comprehensive primary care services."
Medical expenses at Federal Qualified Health Centers are 41 percent lower than with other health care providers. They save taxpayers money by treating patients when they need care and avoid unnecessary and expensive emergency room visits. Community health centers already are credited with reducing spending on health care in the United States by up to $18 billion a year.
Today, with an annual budget of $2 billion, 1,100 community health centers serve 17 million people. Applications by an additional 800 centers already have been approved, but have not been funded because of inadequate resources. Providing resources for the 800 approved centers and another 2,900 new centers over the next five years would provide comprehensive primary care for every American who needs it.
"I am proud to join Senator Sanders in introducing the Access for all America Act. This common-sense and cost-effective solution is an important way that we can begin to tackle the challenges our nation's health care system faces," Obama said. "Community health centers have succeeded in bringing primary care to millions of Americans and we should build on this progress," said Clinton.
To read the bill, click here.