WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is spending almost $600 million to build community health centers and to make medical records easier to find.
The White House on Wednesday painted the spending — part of the $787 billion stimulus bill the president championed during his first days in office — as a way to add jobs to a struggling economy. Officials also linked it to the administration's broader push for an overhaul of the nation's health system that remains unfinished in Congress.
"One of the first investments we made through the Recovery Act was in supporting our nation's community health centers, and today we build on that progress by funding new construction and improvement projects at more than 80 facilities nationwide," Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday. "This is what the Recovery Act is all about: providing immediate assistance for hard-hit families, improving our nation's infrastructure and creating new opportunities for stable, well-paid work."
The administration plans to give almost $509 million to repair, rebuild or replace federally designated community health centers. From coast to coast, the centers serve more than 17 million patients — about 40 percent of whom have no health insurance.
As much as $88 million more will go to health care facilities to transfer their medical records to electronic format and to upgrade technologies.
Obama also asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to begin a three-year trial on how to improve care for Medicare patients at community health centers. The administration anticipates as many as 500 health centers would participate.
"Because community health centers already provide comprehensive health care to people who face the greatest barriers to accessing care, these demonstration projects have the potential to support and improve the care delivered not only to Medicare beneficiaries, but also to others who rely on community health centers for primary care," Sebelius said.
Lawmakers included $2 billion to expand health services to low-income and uninsured Americans. Almost half has been spent already.
"Together, these three initiatives — funding for construction, technology and a medical home demonstration project — won't just save more money, and create more jobs, they'll give more people the peace of mind of knowing that health care will be there for them and their families when they need it," Obama said. "Ultimately, that's what health reform is really about."