Sanders Makes Case for Expanded Community Health Centers

BURLINGTON, March 3 - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters here today he will champion expanding a network of Federally Qualified Health Centers that already play a critical role in providing cost-effective primary health care and dental services to more than 86,000 Vermonters.

Sanders called for a center in every Vermont county. He noted that there were only two centers in Vermont six years ago. Now there are seven.

"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 to fulfill the goal of making sure that any person in Vermont, regardless of income, can walk into a community health center and get high-quality health care, dental care, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs."

More than $5 million in federal funds support Vermont health centers this year. Sanders, a member of both the Senate budget and health committees, said he would seek a $798 million increase in next year's funding level for the nationwide program. That would bring the total amount authorized for next year to $2.9 billion. An increase of that magnitude would create or expand about 1,600 health centers and provide health care for some 8 million more Americans. The health centers now serve 16 million patients.

Sanders also has called for doubling funding for the National Health Service Corps to $248 million. Through loan repayments and scholarships, that increase would support about 3,100 more primary care doctors and dentists to practice in underserved communities. The number of primary-care physicians and other health professionals trained in the United States is shrinking, according to a Government Accountability Office report. "It is beyond comprehension that the richest nation in the history of the world is not able to graduate the kinds of health professionals we need," Sanders said.

Sanders fielded questions from Vermont reporters after a meeting at his U.S. Senate office with representatives of health centers from throughout Vermont.

Currently, there are seven community health center organizations serving 10 Vermont counties. Sanders has been working with a community group in Addison County and with Springfield Hospital to add health centers in Addison, Windsor, and Windham counties.

The centers now care for one in eight Vermonters, including one in six uninsured patients, one in five Medicaid patients, and one in 10 of the privately insured patients in the state. The centers offer a sliding fee discount for uninsured patients, based on income and family size.