Release: Sanders Proposes Major Expansion of Health Centers Program

WASHINGTON, February 26 - In a dramatic step forward on health reform, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) today introduced legislation to provide primary health care for all Americans.

About 56 million Americans lack adequate access to a doctor or dentist in their communities, according to Sanders. The legislation would build on recent momentum in the economic stimulus bill and quadruple funding authority for health centers. "This is one of the most significant steps forward that we have seen in decades in addressing the primary health care crisis in our country," he said.

"Our first major step towards comprehensive health reform was children's health insurance legislation covering 11 million children in America," Clyburn said.  "I believe the next important step is a major investment in the trusted community health center system which currently provides primary care to millions of Americans nationwide."

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.  The 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. The corps provides debt forgiveness and grants for medical and dental students in exchange for practicing in underserved areas.

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. "At a time when the cost of health care and the number of uninsured are rising, community health centers and the National Health Service Corps are more important than ever.  From inner city clinics to low-income communities across the country, they make a large difference in the health of millions of our people.  I commend Senator Sanders for introducing this legislation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to strengthen these two vital programs as part of our commitment to achieve quality, affordable health care for all Americans," said Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The new legislation would compliment a $2 billion boost for community health centers in the economic stimulus bill signed earlier this month by President Barack Obama.

In Vermont, there are seven community health centers with additional satellite offices. The bill Sanders introduced, cosponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would provide three additional centers. The House version of the bill is cosponsored by Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

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.

Investments in health centers pay for themselves. Overall medical expenses for health center patients are 41 percent lower than for patients who receive care elsewhere.  Savings are achieved by treating people when they should be treated instead of putting off problems until a crisis requires expensive emergency room treatment and unnecessary hospital admissions.  Already community health centers are estimated to reduce health care spending in the United States by between $10 and $18 billion annually. 

For a copy of the bill, click here.

For a fact sheet on the bill, click here.

For a list of health centers in Vermont, click here.

For a fact sheet on health centers in Vermont, click here.