WASHINGTON, D.C. According to a late October press release from the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I – Vt., Sanders and a coalition of other, largely Democratic legislators have called for adopting a previously proposed expansion of federal funding for community health centers.
Funding for community health centers initially secured under the Affordable Care Act is currently set to expire Nov. 21.
Legislation introduced by Sanders and Rep. James Clyburn, D – N.C., earlier this year would, according to Sanders’s office, expand funding for the nearly 1,400 community health centers supported for communities across the U.S. and U.S. territories, incrementally increasing funding allocations to community health centers by 10 percent annually over five years.
That legislation, dubbed the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act, would also allocate $4.6 billion for capital improvements to existing health centers and support the National Health Service Corps that supports clinicians working within the health centers.
A spending authorization passed this year by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions would provide flat funding for community health centers over four years.
Community health centers, like the Northern Tier Centers for Health that services Franklin and Grand Isle counties, provide medical, dental and mental health care, substance-abuse treatment and low-cost drug prescriptions for almost 30 million people, according to Sanders’s office.
A letter signed by Sanders and a coalition of Democratic legislators, dated for Oct. 23, urges leadership in both houses of Congress to adopt the expansion, asserting “Congress must immediately secure additional funding for these critical public health programs and urge swift action before November 21 to ensure continuous access to medical training and health care services for all who need it.”
Rep. Peter Welch, D – Vt., is also listed as a signatory on that letter.
Per Sanders’s office, the flat lined funding was “effectively a cut to services that would likely push 3.4 million people out of primary care at CHCs by 2023.”
By contrast, according to Sanders’s office, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act would amount to an increase of $6.86 billion over what was passed by the Republican-led Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
It would also, according to Sanders, expand primary coverage to 10 million more Americans by 2024.
“It is no exaggeration to call Community Health Centers a lifeline for millions of Americans,” Sanders said in a statement. “We are standing together to push back on this relentless assault on people’s basic health.
“Congress must expand—and not allow any cuts to—the comprehensive medical treatment that so many millions of people depend on through community health centers.”
The letter signed by Sanders and Welch also stresses an economic impact that accompanies community health centers, asserting community health centers “employ more than 220,000 people across the country, produce nearly $55 billion in economic activity and save our health care system more than $24 billion per year.”
Community health centers, they wrote, also assist patients with “healthy and affordable foods, housing support, and transportation assistance” and work “on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.”
According to Sanders’s office, more than one in four Vermonters rely on community health centers for their health care.