Sanders bill would create more community health centers

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed quadrupling the money spent on community health centers across the country.

Sanders says his bill can be the foundation to national health care reform because the centers would guarantee universal access to primary care.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Already this year, Congress has funneled $2 billion into community health centers.

That money was included in the federal economic stimulus package.

Now, Senator Sanders and a coalition of progressives in Congress want to boost annual spending to $8 billion within five years.

(Sanders) “When we make that investment, you end up saving money. Because when people have access to a doctor they don’t end up in the emergency room, which is very, very expensive health care. They don’t end up in the hospital because they didn’t go to the doctor when they should or have the medicine they need when they should have had it. So this proposal, according to virtually every study, actually saves money by keeping people healthy and letting them get to a doctor when they need to get to a doctor.”

(Sneyd) Community health centers are designed to be the place for all kinds of primary care – physical, mental, dental.

Centers that qualify under federal guidelines are allowed to charge rates on a sliding scale according to patients’ ability to pay.

Sanders says the concept has been a success.

(Sanders) “In Vermont, I’m proud to say that we hve gone from two federally qualified community health centers in the last five years to seven, which means that now some 82,000 Vermonters are getting good quality primary health care, dental care, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs in many parts of our state.”

(Sneyd) Nationally, there are 1,100 federally qualified community health centers.

Under the Sanders bill, that number would grow to 4,800. Vermont would get three more, for a total of 10, which Sanders says would be sufficient to serve every region of the state.

Sanders is excited about the prospects for his bill, which has 21 co-sponsors. And another prominent supporter.

(Sanders) “I introduced similar legislation last year and the very first cosponsor I had was Barack Obama.”

(Sneyd) This year, Senator Ted Kennedy is a co-sponsor. Kennedy chairs the committee that will consider the bill. He’s also the author of the bill that established the first community health centers 40 years ago.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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