Primary Health Care For All Americans

Senators Propose Community Health Center Expansion

WASHINGTON, August 1 - Legislation to expand a successful and cost-effective community health center program was introduced by Senators Bernie 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.

Under the measure, a 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. Already a success in Vermont and many other states, the centers serve patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, and the uninsured.

"Ensuring Americans in Illinois and across the country have access to affordable healthcare should be a top priority," said Obama. "Over the years, community health centers have proven their ability and capacity to expand access to healthcare, lower costs and improve quality of care. These centers' patients often experience better outcomes, and health disparities are commonly reduced. 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."

"We must reform the healthcare system so that every American has quality, affordable healthcare, but an insurance card is not enough. Access to primary care is an essential part of ensuring that all Americans receive the care they need and this legislation is an important part of improving this access. Community health centers have succeeded in bringing primary care to millions of Americans and we should build on this progress," said Clinton.

Sanders, the chief sponsor, said, "This country faces a major health care crisis. Among many other serious problems, 56 million Americans lack adequate access to basic medical care, dental care, and low-cost prescription drugs. The Access for All America Act would expand the highly successful and cost-effective Federally Qualified Health Center model to every corner of this country. The result 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 Americans when they need care and avoid unnecessary and expensive emergency room visits. In fact, community health centers already are credited with reducing spending on health care in the United States by $10 billion 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 5 years would provide comprehensive primary care for every American who needs it.

"By guaranteeing health care to all Americans, we can save lives, prevent human suffering, and save taxpayers billions of dollars," Sanders said. "It's not often that we are presented with a program that meets critical needs while reducing overall health care expenditures by more than it costs. At a time when families are being squeezed harder than ever by huge gas prices, higher food costs, and a dismal economy, we owe the American people this common-sense reform."

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Daniel K. Inouye, (D-Hawaii) John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) also are original cosponsors of the bill.

To read the bill, click here.