$10 Billion More for Community Health Centers will Revolutionize Care
WASHINGTON, December 19 – A $10 billion investment in community health centers, expected to go to $14 billion when Congress completes work on health care reform legislation, was included in a final series of changes to the Senate bill unveiled today.
The provision, which would provide primary care for 25 million more Americans, was requested by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
He said the additional resources will help bring about a revolution in primary health care in America and create new or expanded health centers in an additional 10,000 communities. The provision would also provide loan repayments and scholarships through the National Health Service Corps to create an additional 20,000 primary care doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and mental health professionals.
Very importantly, Sanders also said the provision would save Medicaid tens of billions of dollars by keeping patients out of emergency rooms and hospitals by providing primary care when then needed it.
Sanders has worked with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to include $14 billion in the House version of the legislation.
Sanders is also working with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to improve language already in the bill to provide waivers for states that want to provide comprehensive, affordable health care and curb rapidly-rising costs for money-making private health insurance companies. The waivers could clear the way for a state-run, single-payer system.
For the health centers, the $14 billion in the bill that the House of Representatives approved on Nov. 7 would increase the number of centers from 20 million to 45 million over the next five years.
The investment would more than pay for itself by saving Medicaid $23 billion over five years on reduced emergency room use and hospital costs, according to a study conducted by George Washington University.
The system of Federally Qualified Health Centers began four decades ago under pioneering legislation by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Community health centers now provide primary health care, dental care, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs for about 20 million Americans. The centers offer basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations and cancer screenings. Open to everyone, the centers care for patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance as well as those who have no insurance.
Dan Hawkins, senior vice president of the National Association of Community Health Centers, testified before Congress earlier this year that the cost of care at health centers is 41 percent less than what is spent to care for patients elsewhere. The savings would grow if health centers were expanded to serve more patients, according to Hawkins.
In Vermont, eight health centers and 40 satellite offices provide primary health care to more than 100,000 patients regardless of their ability to pay. Sanders said that with the additional health care funding it was very likely that new centers would be established in Addison County, Bennington County and perhaps Windham County.