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Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users--Continued

Location: Washington, DC

Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users--Continued

Mr. SANTORUM (for himself and Mr. WYDEN):

S. 1058. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide liability protections for volunteer practitioners at health centers under section 330 of such Act; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Community Health Center Volunteer Physician Protection Act of 2005 along with Senator RON WYDEN. Representative TIM MURPHY of Pennsylvania introduced identical bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives, H.R. 1313.

Community health centers offer primary and preventive health care services to everyone, including low-income, underinsured and uninsured families. Community health centers are typically located in high-need areas identified by the Federal Government as having elevated poverty, higher than average infant mortality, and where few physicians practice. They tailor their services to fit the special needs and priorities of their communities, and offer services that help their patients access health care such as health education, transportation and home visitation.

While low-income individuals have access to Medicaid and the elderly and the disabled have access to Medicare, uninsured and underinsured families often delay seeing a doctor or turn to emergency departments where treatment is several times more expensive.

Community health centers, however, provide comprehensive and preventive care that adjusts charges for patient care according to family income. The Federal Government spends over $23 billion a year to offset losses incurred by hospitals for patients unable to pay their bills, and the Department of Health and Human Services note that medical care at community health centers cost only about $1.30 per day per patient served. In fact, medical care at community health centers is around $250 less per patient served than the average annual expenditure for an office-based medical provider.

Community health centers offer an affordable source of quality health care, but we need more of them. The President has proposed a $304 million increase for community health center programs to create 1,200 new or expanded sites to serve an additional 6.1 million people by next year. In order to meet that goal, the centers must double their workforce by adding double the clinicians by 2006. Hiring this many doctors would be costly, but encouraging more to volunteer would help to meet this need. While many physicians are willing to volunteer their services at these centers, they often hesitate due to the high cost of medical liability insurance. As a result, there are too few volunteer physicians to meet our health care needs.

By comparison, volunteer physicians at free health clinics and paid physicians at community health centers already receive comprehensive medical liability coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

Accordingly, the Community Health Center Volunteer Physician Protection Act of 2005 would extend the medical liability protections of FTCA to volunteer physicians at community health centers. These protections are necessary to ensure that the centers can continue to play an important role in lowering our Nation's health care costs and meeting the needs for affordable and access quality health care. The Community Health Center Volunteer Physician Protection Act of 2005 is supported by the National Association of Community Health Centers, the American Medical Association and the American Osteopathic Association.

The impact that community health centers have on the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is significant. Pennsylvania is the home to twenty-nine Federal grantees, including 11 of which are rural, and 151 different service delivery sites. These services are crucial in my home state which also faces a severe medical liability crisis.

We must continue to encourage the spirit of giving and volunteerism, particularly in the healthcare arena. I urge my colleagues to support the Community Health Center Volunteer Physician Protection Act of 2005.

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