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Bernie Sanders: "A Revolution in Primary Care"

January 1st, 2010, 04:01 am admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Arguably the most critical element of the health insurance bill, the one that will extend actual care to the most people, is the Sanders’ Community Health Centers expansion. He talks about that in an interview with Ezra:

In most areas of Vermont right now, you can drive to a community health center near you where you’ll get excellent quality primary health care. If you have no health insurance, you’re charged on a sliding scale basis. If you have Medicare or Medicaid, they’re delighted to have you. And private health insurance, that’s great, too. We’ve gone from two community health centers in Vermont to eight. And those eight centers have 41 separate locations and are used by about 100,000 people – and that’s in a population a bit over 600,000. So we know they work.

As of this point, we have added $10 billion for the program in the Senate bill. Congressman Jim Clyburn has added $14 billion in the House bill. And my hope is the conference committee will go with the $14 billion. What we would do with $14 billion is expand access from the current 20 million people served by community health centers to 45 million people. It will mean establishing CHCs and their satellites in 10,000 new communities. What it also means is that we will dramatically increase funding for the National Health Service Corps so we have an additional 20,000 doctors, dentists and nurses. It’s a revolution in primary health care if we get what I hope we get….

When we talk about health care, people tend to talk about insurance. But equally important is access. You need to be able to find a primary-care physician and a dentist and a mental-health counselor. The $14 billion will have a profound impact on addressing the crisis in primary care in this country. We’re not graduating enough primary-care doctors, and even people with insurance often can’t find one. But the insanity is that we’re not just depriving people of primary care they need, but we’re sending them to the emergency room. And the emergency room will treat you for the common cold and charge $600 to $1,000, and the community health center will cost $100. If we spend on community health centers, you actually save money.

We also have a major problem with dental care in this country. But community health centers provide that, and so, too, with mental-health counseling. They also provide some of the lowest-cost prescription drugs in America. This program, ironically enough, has widespread bipartisan support. Even George W. Bush put money into this program. John McCain campaigned on it. In the stimulus package, we doubled funding to about $2 billion a year and brought it up to $4 billion.

It’s a good start on actually providing more health care to some of the people who need it most, and along with Medicaid expansion is what’s worth the fight in the bill, and along with the better affordability mechanisms, public option and no excise tax aspects of the House bill, what conferees should be fighting for.

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