12.19.09

Leahy Amendment To Help Free Health Clinics Included In Health Package

WASHINGTON (Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009) – An amendment authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to help ease the crunch on free medical clinics across the country is part of a legislative package sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that will be offered as an amendment to the health reform legislation pending before the Senate.  The amendment expands the scope of the Federal Tort Claims Act, and clarifies its application to free medical clinics.

The Leahy-authored amendment will make clear that the same level of medical malpractice coverage under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) received by Community Health Centers will be extended to free clinics.  Under current law, the FTCA provides insurance coverage for physicians who volunteer in free clinics, but the law is unclear whether other professionals such as board members and administrative staff serving the community in free clinics are also covered.  This lack of clarity results in free clinics purchasing medical malpractice insurance on the private market for all of their non-medical staff.

“This is a common-sense provision that will provide some significant relief to cash-strapped clinics,” said Leahy.  “The funds these clinics use on medical malpractice coverage could instead be directed to providing necessary healthcare to the uninsured.  This is especially true in states like Vermont, where free clinics make a significant impact serving those in rural areas.  I am pleased that the Majority Leader has included this provision in the manager’s amendment to the health reform legislation, and I hope all Senators will support its passage.”

Hundreds of free health care clinics across the country, staffed by volunteer physicians, nurses and dentists administer care to thousands of uninsured Americans every year.

Leahy first introduced the provision as independent legislation in August.  Leahy has heard from representatives of Vermont’s seven free health care clinics in support of the provision.  Free health clinics in Vermont provide essential preventative health services to thousands of uninsured Vermonters.  In the economic recession, many free clinics in Vermont and across the country are struggling to remain open due to reduced donations from the community.

The Senate is expected to vote on the package before the winter recess.

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