"If our legislation is passed, it will not only keep people healthy by providing medical and dental care and low-cost prescription drugs, it also will save billions of dollars by helping people stay healthy and stay out of hospitals and emergency rooms," Sen. Bernie Sanders said as he chaired a hearing of the Senate health committee on legislation to provide primary health care for all Americans. His legislation, the Access for All Americans Act, would authorize $8.3 billion annually at the end of five years to expand the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers from 1,100 to 4,800.
Dan Hawkins, senior vice president of the National Association of Community Health Centers, testified that the cost of care at health centers is 41 percent less than what is spent to care for patients elsewhere. That results in a savings of more than $17 billion a year today, he said. The savings could grow to more than $40 billion annually if health centers were expanded to serve more patients, according to Hawkins.
"Good, accessible primary care is the essential foundation of all care and for any hope of constraining the costs of health care for the nation," Dr. John Matthew of The Health Center in Plainfield, Vt., told the committee.
The center in Plainfield is one of eight in Vermont, up from two only a few years ago. Seven centers and 29 satellite locations now provide care for about 82,000 Vermonters, or about one-in-eight residents of the state. More satellite facilities will be added in southeastern Vermont by Springfield Hospital, which earlier this spring was awarded $1.3 million to become Vermont's eighth center. That will bring the number of patients served in Vermont to more than 100,000.
Sanders hopes to open two more centers in Vermont and many more around the country to serve the 60 million Americans who lack adequate access to a doctor or dentist.
Sanders' legislation also would strengthen the National Health Service Corps by authorizing $1.2 billion. The nearly ten-fold increase would address a serious doctor, dentist and nursing shortage in the United States by expanding the effort to recruit and train health care professionals.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is among 21 cosponsors of the Senate version of the bill. It was Kennedy whose legislation created the health center program four decades ago.
Companion legislation in the House was introduced by Rep. James Clyburn.
The legislation would compliment a $2 billion boost for community health centers in the economic stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama.
Federally Qualified Health Centers provide affordable primary care, dental care, mental health services and low-cost prescription drugs. Open to everyone, the centers today provide 18 million Americans basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations and cancer screenings for patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, as well as those who have no insurance.
Click here for video.