Sanders Puts Focus on Primary Health Care

BURLINGTON, Vt., April 24 –U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the senior Obama administration official responsible for improving access to health care met here today with representatives from 11 community health centers throughout Vermont.

Mary Wakefield, who heads the Health Resources and Services Administration at the Department of Health and Human Services, joined Sanders at a news conference to discuss what the senator has called a crisis in primary care in the United States.

“We have made some good progress in Vermont and across the nation in the last few years but clearly we still have a long way to go,” Sanders said.

A Sanders provision in the Affordable Care Act authorized $11 billion to build, expand, and operate Federally Qualified Health Centers. The locally-run centers offer affordable primary, dental and mental health care and low-cost prescription drugs. In Vermont, there were only two community health centers a decade ago. This year, 11 centers across the state will serve about 163,000 patients. That’s more than one in four people in the state and one of the highest participation rates in the country.

Three new sites opening this year in Vermont are the Battenkill Valley Health Center in Arlington, the Five Town Health Alliance in Bristol and the Gifford Health Care in Randolph.

Sanders, who chairs a Senate panel on health care, has introduced legislation to attract more doctors and other health care providers to primary care. His bill would boost funding for community health centers; dramatically increase opportunities for medical school graduates to go into family medicine; raise Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care providers; and expand National Health Service Corps loan and scholarship programs for primary care providers.