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Bernie Sanders Tours Newest Community Health Center In Vermont

Congress has begun its two-week Easter break and Vermont’s representatives are in the state discussing the issues.  On Tuesday Independent Senator Bernie Sanders toured the newest federally-funded health center in the state. Sanders discussed potential impacts the proposed Trump budget and renewed Republican efforts to repeal to the Affordable Care Act could have on community health centers.
The Champlain Islands Health Center is the most rural and the newest facility of the Community Health Centers of Burlington.  Located in South Hero on the main road crossing the Lake Champlain islands, the center opened in November.  CEO Alison Calderara explains there are nine staffers at the rural facility providing health and psychiatric treatment with dental facilities anticipated in the future.   “We are very much literally the powerhouse of a safety-net system for Vermonters and also just such an important primary care system here in the state.  There is clearly a need for access to primary care here in Vermont and Federally Qualified Health Centers are fulfilling that need. And if you look here I’m not sure where else people would go.  This is their community family doctor.”

Senator Sanders helped secure the funding that created the community health center networks across Vermont.  One of his provisions in the 2010 Affordable Care Act authorized $11 billion for construction or expansion of community health centers nationwide plus $1.5 billion for additional primary care providers in underserved areas.  Senator Sanders toured Vermont’s newest center on Tuesday.

Sanders calls himself a strong advocate of community health centers and says his office has worked to expand the numbers of the facilities across the state.  “If I’m not mistaken, per capita, Vermont has the most significant community health center presence in the United States of America. In fact almost one out of four Vermonters get their primary health care in community health centers. And I think as a nation we face a real crisis in terms, not only health care in general, but primary health care, making sure that there is affordable primary care for anybody who needs to get into a doctor’s office. So I think Community Health Centers in this state have done an extraordinary job in providing that access.”  

The Community Health Center of Burlington receives $2.7 million from federal government and gets a special reimbursement rate from Medicaid.  Calderara says there are several areas of risk in both the proposed federal budget and possible renewed efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act.   “When we see a rollback to Medicaid we’re thinking about all the people that  depend on that for access to care. The other aspect that is a great source of concern for all Federally Qualified Health Centers is our federal funding was redesignated two years ago and that is coming up again for renewal in September. So for every FQHC across the country and including all the FQHC’s here in Vermont that’s a significant portion of our funding.  For us it’s 70 percent of our grant funding. So for us that would be a $2 million cut. That would be significant.”

Vermont’s junior Senator says the White House’s budget proposal plus attempts to repeal the ACA threaten health care and local community health centers.   “Republicans’ so-called health plan was a disaster and it really wasn’t a health plan. And if any similar program or idea comes up we’re going to defeat that too. Under Trump we are very concerned that they are proposing to cut back on health care, on education, environmental protection, the needs of the elderly, the needs of the children. I am very concerned about that absurd set of priorities.”

The Community Health Center merged in 2012 with the only physician on the island and saw more than 6,000 patient visits at the South Hero practice last year.  There are 12 Federally Qualified Health Centers in Vermont operating in 50 locations.


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