Sanders, Pressley, Warren, 85 Lawmakers Urge Congress to Expand Community Health Centers Funding

Washington, October 24 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) co-led an effort with Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and 85 other members of Congress, urging House and Senate leadership to increase funding to Community Health Centers (CHCs)—a network of 1,400 facilities in all 50 states and U.S. territories that provide medical, dental, and mental health care, substance-abuse treatment, and low-cost prescription drugs for nearly 30 million people. Federal funding for CHCs is set to expire on November 21.
 
The lawmakers ask for “strong and long-term funding at the levels outlined in H.R. 1943/S. 962, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act,” legislation introduced by Sanders and Representative James Clyburn (D-N.C.), also a signatory to the letter. The Sanders-Clyburn bill increases resources for the National Health Service Corps as well, which provides scholarships and loan repayment to 10,000 clinicians who work in underserved communities. “Additionally,” write the members of Congress, “we urge you to provide strong funding levels for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program,” which supports over 700 medical residents in underserved areas around the country.
 
CHCs are considered indispensable health providers in thousands of communities—particularly for communities of color, poor, underinsured, and rural populations, as well as children, veterans, and seniors.  
 
A spending authorization passed earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions would provide flat funding for community health centers over four years, effectively a cut to services that would likely push 3.4 million people out of primary care at CHCs by 2023. The Congressional letter, in contrast, advocates for funding levels specified by the Sanders-Clyburn legislation, which would expand resources to CHCs by 10 percent annually over five years. This would amount to $6.86 billion more than the flat funding proposed by Senate Republicans, and expand primary coverage to 10 million more Americans by 2024 in comparison. The House and Senate must still negotiate on federal levels of CHC funding.  
 
“It is no exaggeration to call Community Health Centers a lifeline for millions of Americans,” Sanders said. “President Trump and the Republicans tried and failed to destroy the Affordable Care Act in Congress. Now they’re in the courts still trying to kick millions off their health care. We are standing together to push back on this relentless assault on people’s basic health. Congress must expand—and not allow any cuts to—the comprehensive medical treatment that so many millions of people depend on through community health centers.”
 
The dozens of members of Congress also stress the economic impact of Community Health Centers, writing that CHCs “employ more than 220,000 people across the country, produce nearly $55 billion in economic activity, and save our health care system more than $24 billion per year.” CHCs also assist patients with “healthy and affordable foods, housing support, and transportation assistance,” and are working “on the front lines of the opioid epidemic,” they conclude.  
 
Sanders has been a longtime champion of CHCs. In 2009, he secured $11 billion in the Affordable Care Act to expand primary health care to 25 million Americans through CHCs, including through 24 new health center sites in Vermont. More than one in four Vermonters rely on CHCs for their health care.
 
Read the letter here.

Read a bill summary of S. 962, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act here.