February 26, 2009

CARDIN JOINS SANDERS AND CLYBURN TO ANNOUNCE A MAJOR EXPANSION OF COMMUNITY HEALTH CARE CENTERS

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) to announce the introduction of legislation that could provide primary health care for all Americans. Authored by Congressman Clyburn and Senator Sanders, Senator Cardin is among the 21 Senate original co-sponsors of the Access for All Americans Act that expands the health center program created by Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) four decades ago.

 

"Expanding our system of community health care centers - centers that we know work and save lives - is an investment in the health of our citizens and our economy," said Senator Cardin. "As we mark the second anniversary of Deamonte Driver's tragic death, we are reminded how much the lack of access to care can cost a person. Preventative health care and dental care saves lives and costs less than treating advanced diseases or injuries."

 

Maryland has 105 Federally-Supported Health Centers that treated 215,639 patients in 2007.  Federally Qualified Health Centers provide affordable primary care, dental care, mental health services and low-cost prescription drugs. Open to everyone, the centers today provide 18 million Americans basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations and cancer screenings for patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, as well as those who have no insurance.

 

About 56 million Americans lack adequate access to a doctor or dentist, according to Senator Sanders. He said the legislation would build on recent momentum in the economic stimulus bill and quadruple funding authority for health centers. "This is one of the most significant steps forward that we have seen in decades in addressing the primary health care crisis in our country."

 

 "Our first major step towards comprehensive health reform was children's health insurance legislation covering 11 million children in America," Congressman Clyburn said.  "I believe the next important step is a major investment in the trusted community health center system which currently provides primary care to 60 million Americans nationwide."

 

The Access for All Americans Act would authorize $8.3 billion annually at the end of five years to expand the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers from 1,100 to 4,800.  The legislation also would strengthen the National Health Service Corps by authorizing $1.2 billion. The nearly ten-fold increase would address a serious doctor, dentist and nursing shortage in the United States by expanding the effort to recruit and train health care professionals. The corps provides debt forgiveness and grants for medical and dental students in exchange for practicing in underserved areas.

 

The new legislation would compliment a $2 billion boost for community health centers in the economic stimulus bill signed earlier this month by President Barack Obama.

 

Investments in health centers pay for themselves. Overall medical expenses for health center patients are 41 percent lower than for patients who receive care elsewhere.  Savings are achieved by treating people when they should be treated instead of putting off problems until a crisis requires expensive emergency room treatment and unnecessary hospital admissions.  Already community health centers are estimated to reduce health care spending in the United States by between $10 and $18 billion annually.

 

For a copy of the bill, click here .

For a fact sheet on the bill, click here .