Feds fund 3 new subsidized health centers in Vermont

MONTPELIER -- Vermont's federally qualified health centers, known for providing comprehensive primary care, mental health and dental services to residents, are about to grow in number from eight to 11, thanks to new funding.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., relayed the news Thursday from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that clinics based in Arlington, Bristol and Randolph would join the ranks of health centers that get federal grants, enhanced payments from Medicare and Medicaid and low-cost prescription drugs.

Clinics to get the new designation in Vermont include the Arlington-based Battenkill Valley Health Center, the Five-Town Health Alliance based in Bristol and the clinics affiliated with the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph.

Sanders called the centers "a model of what primary health care should be about."

Across the country, about $150 million is being made available for 236 newly designated federally qualified health centers. The Vermont clinics will share $2.4 million of that money.

"With these new funds, health centers will provide more individuals and families across the country with access to high quality affordable health care," said Mary Wakefield, administrator of an HHS division Health Resources and Services Administration.

The announcement comes as the rollout of the federal health overhaul continues to suffer criticism since the deeply flawed launch of insurance marketplaces Oct. 1. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told lawmakers Wednesday that some repairs have been made to the website hosting the federally run marketplaces, but that "we're not where we need to be."

Darcie Johnston, head of the group Vermonters for Health Care Freedom and a strong critic of the health overhaul and the way it is being implemented in the state, said the new money is designed to mask underlying problems.

"They're just throwing more money - we just throw billions of dollars at a system that doesn't have a plan, a goal or an outcome that is able to be measured," she said.

But board member Elizabeth Wanner-Rosenberg of the Battenkill Valley Health Center said the announcement was "beyond good news. It's an understatement to say it's lifesaving for the community on so many levels."

She called the announcement a surprise, saying the center had been rejected in an earlier round and wasn't expecting a chance to re-apply until next year.

The center's medical chief, Dr. Michael Welther, voiced similar surprise and elation.

"This will help preserve primary care in our area and will help provide that access to people," he said.


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