Senate Passes Reauthorization Bill for Community Health Centers
The Senate approved a bill (S 1533) on Tuesday that would continue and strengthen support for community health centers and create a program to coordinate care for underserved individuals. The Health Care Safety Net Amendments of 2001, passed by unanimous consent, would reauthorize the health centers program and the National Health Service Corps and would create the Healthy Communities Access Program. Community health centers provide a range of primary care services to patients, regardless of ability to pay. The National Health Service Corps, launched in 1972, sends physicians to underserved areas where shortages of health personnel exist. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill's sponsor, said that without these two programs, "there would be higher rates of tuberculosis, infant mortality, AIDS, substance abuse and many other debilitating conditions in low-income neighborhoods," and the "nation's emergency rooms would be flooded with even more patients seeking primary care."
The newly created Healthy Communities Access Program seeks to bring together private and public providers to improve the coordination of care for underserved communities (Kennedy statement, 4/16). HCAP, offered as an amendment by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), was originally proposed by the Clinton administration. The Bush administration has expressed opposition to the program (American Health Line, 8/2/01). "I commend President Bush for making the health centers program and the National Health Service Corps a priority in his 2003 budget, and I hope the administration will support the bipartisan HCAP program," Kennedy said (Kennedy statement, 4/16).