Senators Sanders, Murkowski Propose Community Health Act

WASHINGTON - Senator Bernie Sanders today introduced legislation to improve access to a growing but underfunded nationwide network of community health centers that provide critical primary care for patients in Vermont and across the United States. "Community health centers are incredibly effective in providing high-quality health care, low-cost prescription drugs, dental care, and mental health counseling, and they do it in a very cost effective way," said Sanders (I-Vt.). "We want to see them e

WASHINGTON - Senator Bernie Sanders today introduced legislation to improve access to a growing but underfunded nationwide network of community health centers that provide critical primary care for patients in Vermont and across the United States. "Community health centers are incredibly effective in providing high-quality health care, low-cost prescription drugs, dental care, and mental health counseling, and they do it in a very cost effective way," said Sanders (I-Vt.). "We want to see them expanded in Vermont and across the country." The measure was cosponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski. Sanders joined her last week in proposing legislation to address physician shortages in rural areas. "Currently, Alaska has the sixth lowest ratio of physicians to population of the United States. In rural Alaska, it's the worst in the nation," said Murkowski (R-Alaska). "By bolstering the cornerstone of rural health care, the community health center, through grants and allowing them to expand their residency programs, it is my hope that we can better deliver critical health care to these underserved areas." In Vermont, there currently are five centers that provide services in seven counties at 18 local sites that serve about 10 percent of the population. In addition, there are two federal "look-alike" centers on the way to becoming Federally Qualified Health Centers. The new legislation is the latest chapter in Sanders' long-term effort to establish health centers in every county in Vermont. The Senate this week also is expected to approve a budget that adds $575 million above the amount President Bush proposed to spend next year on community health centers. A member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders helped secure the panel's additional commitment to the centers. The budget resolution and Sanders' separate community health center legislation both provide new hope for the 40-year-old network of health centers that has struggled with growing demand but shrinking federal resources during the Bush administration. Under Sanders' proposal, support would be strengthened for 1,200 existing community health centers that serve more than 15 million patients regardless of their ability to pay. His bill also would devote resources to another 800 centers already approved on paper but unfunded because of budget shortfalls. In all, more than 4 million additional patients would gain access to quality, affordable primary care at the centers. In addition, Sanders' bill would double funding for the National Health Service Corps in order to train and send more primary care doctors and dentists into rural and inner-city communities where 35 million Americans live without full access to basic medical services. Moreover, the measure would eliminate an arbitrary cap on Medicare payments to the community health centers. Because of the Medicare cap, funds that could have helped provide care for the uninsured have been shifted to subsidize care for the elderly. "That is a Hobson's choice that health care providers should not be forced to make," Sanders said. Click here to read the Senator's statement.Click here to read a copy of the bill.