WASHINGTON, February 25 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tonight will receive the 2010 “Distinguished Community Health Champion” award from the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Sanders earlier in the day conferred in his Capitol Hill office with representatives from some of the eight health centers in Vermont that provide affordable primary care, dental care, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs.
The eight Federally Qualified Health Centers now provide primary health care at 41 locations for more than 110,000 Vermonters. Sanders is working with organizations in Addison and Bennington counties to expand community health centers into those areas, giving residents of every region access to primary health care.
As the health center leaders assembled for their annual conference, President Obama and congressional leaders met to discuss ways to advance health care legislation. Obama on Monday for the first time detailed his own health care proposal, which includes $12.5 billion for health centers and training for primary care doctors and other professionals.
The Obama proposal mirrors a Sanders provision for community health centers in a bill that the Senate approved last Dec. 24. The Senate legislation also invested in training for health care professionals.
The president’s plan, according to Sanders, would double the number of health center sites nationally over the next five years from 7,500 to 15,000 sites. The $11 billion the White House allocated for health centers would increase the number of patients served from 20 million today to about 39 million by 2015. That investment in health centers, Sanders added, would save Medicaid $17 billion that would otherwise be spent on more expensive hospital and emergency room care, according to a George Washington University study.
The White House proposal incorporated another Sanders provision in the Senate bill that would provide $1.5 billion for loan repayments and scholarships through the National Health Service Corps. The increase would add more than 17,000 primary care doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and mental health professionals in medically-underserved areas.
The system of Federally Qualified Health Centers began four decades ago under pioneering legislation by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a previous recipient of the “Distinguished Community Health Campion” honor. Kennedy created the first Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are open to patients with or without insurance and regardless of their ability to pay.