New legislation—described as the next step in comprehensive health
reform—is designed to quadruple the number of community health centers
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House majority whip, introduced a bill (HR
1296) in March to provide $26 billion for a huge increase in community health
centers beyond the 1,067 existing centers. These centers operate 6,700 clinics
that provide dental and medical care, including mental health services, to
about 16 million low-income and uninsured individuals.
Among those clinics are approximately 3,000 that provide community-based
mental health care.
"This is the next step to comprehensive and universal health care for
all of our citizens," Clyburn said in a statement.
The legislation would increase the $2.1 billion annual spending on
community health centers to $8 billion over five years.
The legislation also would provide more than $1 billion for the National
Health Service Corps, a program for physicians who practice in low-income
communities in exchange for scholarships and forgiveness of medical school
The legislation does not mandate that a specific percentage of health
centers provide particular types of care—such as treatment for
psychiatric illness—only that applying treatment facilities meet federal
qualifications, which include providing treatment for "medically
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced similar legislation (S 486) in
the Senate, said additional community health centers are needed to provide
care to the 56 million Americans—including some who have health
insurance—who cannot find a physician or allied health professional to
treat them in a timely manner. This results in many people seeking expensive
care in an emergency department or going untreated and incurring greater costs
to the system when a deteriorating condition requires hospitalization.
He pointed out that the health centers' cost-effective approach to care has
created support for them across party lines, as seen in the bipartisan support
his legislation has attracted.
"The reason for that bipartisan support is that everybody here
understands that community health centers provide quality health care in a
cost-effective manner," Sanders said.
Sanders praised new funding for such health centers included in the
recently passed stimulus measure—the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act (ARRA, PL 111-5)—which provided $155 million to support 126 new
health centers. His legislation would build on these newly approved health
"The construction and expansion of health centers will create
thousands of new jobs, help provide health care to an estimated 750,000
Americans across the country who wouldn't have access to care without these
centers, and take another step toward an affordable, accessible health care
system," Sanders said in a written statement.
The bipartisan support for the legislation and the senior positions of both
primary sponsors indicate a positive outlook for the legislation.
The community health center bills can be accessed at<http://thomas.loc.gov>
by searching on bill numbers, HR 1296 and S 486. ▪