Sanders Says Health Centers Save Lives and Money

WASHINGTON, December 10 - Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today told a Senate health committee hearing that legislation he introduced to provide primary health care for all Americans would dramatically improve health care at a significant savings.

"Today we're looking at some 56 million Americans in medically underserved areas around this country who do not have access to a doctor," Sanders said. "The issue of the crisis of primary health care is an issue that we as a nation must begin to address."

The Access for All America Act would make certain that every American has access to comprehensive primary care services at a Federally Qualified Health Center in their community.

"My hope is that in the coming years we will expand that program so that every medically underserved area in this country will have a federally qualified community health center, affordable primary health care, dental care, mental health counseling, and low cost prescription drugs. "

Medical expenses at the health centers are 41 percent lower than with other health care providers. They save taxpayers money by treating Americans when they need care and avoid unnecessary and expensive emergency-room visits. In fact, community health centers like the seven throughout Vermont already are credited with reducing spending on health care in the United States by $10 billion to $18 billion a year.

With an annual budget of $2 billion, 1,100 community health centers now serve 17 million people. Applications by an additional 800 centers already have been approved, but have not been funded because of inadequate resources. Providing resources for the 800 approved centers and another 2,900 new centers over the next 5 years would provide comprehensive primary care for every American who needs it.

Sanders' bill would expand an existing program, and also would allow private doctors to serve more of the nation's low-income and uninsured population. Already a success in Vermont and many other states, the centers serve patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, and the uninsured.

Sanders is the lead sponsor of the bill that President-elect Barack Obama cosponsored when he was in the Senate. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and health committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) also signed onto the Sanders bill.