Sen. Bernie Sanders warned Monday that without swift congressional action, the $5.8 billion in federal funding relied on each year by community health centers around the United States will expire on September 30, resulting in a devastating "primary care cliff."
"Congress can and must avoid" such a scenario, says a statement from the Vermont Independent's office.
Sanders announced that the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee he chairs is scheduled to hold a hearing this Thursday at 10:00 am ET titled, "Community Health Centers: Saving Lives, Saving Money."
Millions of people in the U.S. currently receive lifesaving services from community health centers in thousands of neighborhoods nationwide.
“In America today, community health centers are providing cost-effective primary medical care, dental care, mental health counseling, and low-cost prescription drugs to 30 million people regardless of a person's bank account or insurance status," said Sanders.
"Not only do these health centers save lives and ease human suffering," Sanders continued. "They save Medicare, Medicaid, and our entire healthcare system billions of dollars each year because they avoid the need to go to expensive emergency rooms and hospitals."
"In the midst of a broken and dysfunctional healthcare system, I will be doing everything I can to expand community health centers so that every American has access to the primary care that they need and deserve," he added.
According to the senator's office:
Nearly 100 million Americans live in a primary care desert, nearly 70 million live in a dental care desert, and some 158 million Americans—nearly half the country's population—live in a mental healthcare desert. Today, 85 million people are uninsured or under-insured, over 500,000 people go bankrupt each year because of medically related debt, and more than 68,000 people die each year because they cannot afford the healthcare they desperately need. Expanding community health centers will begin to address this urgent crisis.
The following individuals are scheduled to testify at the hearing: Amanda Pears Kelly, chief executive officer of Advocates for Community Health and executive director of the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved; Ben Harvey, chief executive officer of Indiana Primary Health Care Association; Robert Nocon, assistant professor at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine; Sue Veer, president and chief executive officer of Carolina Health Centers; and Jessica Farb, managing director at the Government Accountability Office.