2017-07-13 / Letters

Health Care


care" bill currently being pushed by
Republicans in Washington is one of the
worst pieces of legislation to ever pass the U.S.
House of Representatives in the modern history of
our country. This legislation would throw 22 million
Americans off of health insurance, cut
Medicaid by almost $800 billion, significantly raise
out-of-pocket health care costs, defund Planned
Parenthood and do away with protections for people
with pre-existing conditions. Meanwhile, it
would provide $500 billion in tax breaks to the
wealthiest 2 percent, insurance companies and
drug companies.
I will do everything I can to defeat this bill.
But no matter the fate of this legislation, we must
all recognize that the current health care system is
totally inadequate. Premiums, deductibles and copayments
are too high and we pay, by far, the highest
prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Further, our primary health care system is totally
inadequate. Tens of millions of Americans, including
many with insurance, are unable to get to a
doctor or a dentist when they need to.
In Vermont, we spend more than $5.5 billion on
health care each year. Amazingly, this is an
amount just about equal to the entire state budget.
And of that amount, we spend over $2 billion in
hospitals. That's a lot of money. In my view, an
aggressive emphasis on disease prevention and
expanding the delivery of primary health care will
not only keep Vermonters healthy, it will save substantial
sums of money by keeping people out of
emergency rooms and hospitals.
Ask any doctor or nurse and they will tell you
this: having reliable access to high-quality primary
health care is a big part of what keeps people
healthy. That’s because primary care providers are
the first line of defense in health -- they work to
promote healthy habits that prevent disease and
manage diseases so they don’t become more serious.
That’s exactly the kind of care provided at
Vermont’s Federally Qualified Health Centers each
and every day.
In recent years, we have greatly expanded community
health centers in Vermont. Today, with
over 60 locations in all 14 counties, these community
health centers provide vital health care services
to 155,000 Vermonters, about one in four
people in our state.
Our health centers treat children and adults,
regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Community
health centers see patients with private insurance,
Medicare, Medicaid, or no insurance at all. They
provide primary care, dental care, mental health
services and the lowest cost prescription drugs in
In the very rural areas of our state, health centers
like Little Rivers Health Care and Northern
Counties Health Care are particularly important,
as they might provide the only doctor for many
miles. In areas like Springfield and Randolph,
health centers are partnering with local hospitals
to find better ways to care for patients. In
Burlington, the Community Health Centers of
Burlington has gone to great length to provide culturally
appropriate care to the many New
Americans they treat. Each of our community
health centers is unique, doing what is best to care
for the Vermonters they serve.
Federally Qualified Health Centers not only provide
care where it’s needed, they do it in a costeffective
way and can be economic engines in their
communities. When compared to other providers,
community health centers save, on average,
$2,371 per Medicaid patient and up to $1,210 per
Medicare patient. In one year, they generated more
than $24 billion in savings to the entire national
health care system. And, because community
health centers help people maintain and improve
their health and wellness by focusing on reasonably
priced primary care, they also help people
avoid bankruptcy because of unaffordable medical
In addition, community health centers create
jobs and are a boon to local economies in communities
that are often struggling. Nationally, nearly
190,000 people are employed by a community
health center and they generate more than $45 billion
in total economic activity. Here in Vermont,
community health centers have provided more
than 1,100 people with jobs, making them equal to
one of the top 15 employers in the state.
For all of these reasons and more, I have long
been a strong supporter of community health centers.
I am proud that legislation I first introduced
in 2009 greatly expanded community health centers
as part of the Affordable Care Act. But there
are too many Vermonters – and people throughout
this country – who still can’t access primary care.
And many, many more can’t find – or can’t afford –
a dentist, a key service that contributes to a person’s
overall health.
That is why I have introduced “The Community
Health Center and Primary Care Workforce
Expansion Act,” along with Congressman Jim
Clyburn of South Carolina. This bill calls for a doubling
of the number of patients served by community
health centers around the country – from
roughly 25 million today to 50 million people in the
next decade. This will not only save lives and ease
suffering, but will save taxpayer dollars by providing
some of the most cost-effective care in the
The bill also doubles the amount of money for the
National Health Service Corps (NHSC), a federal
program that provides debt forgiveness for medical
professionals who practice in underserved locations.
This is particularly important in Vermont,
where we not only desperately need more doctors,
dentists and nurses, but are facing a situation
where nearly 30 percent of our physicians are over
age 60 and may soon retire.
This bill also invests heavily in Teaching Health
Centers and Nurse Practitioner Residency Training
Programs -- which train new primary health care
doctors and nurses, the majority of whom are
trained in community health centers and continue
working in them after graduating.
These programs are a win-win, helping young
people develop professional skills and filling a need
for improved access to care in our communities.
For a full list of community health centers in
Vermont, or to find one near you, visit:
United States Senator

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