08.05.09

Leahy Introduces Legislation To Help Ease Crunch On Free Health Clinics

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday introduced legislation to help ease the pressure on free medical clinics across the country that are struggling to pay medical malpractice insurance premiums.  The legislation would expand the scope of the Federal Tort Claims Act, and clarify its application to free medical clinics.  Leahy introduced the legislation after hearing from representatives of Vermont’s seven free health care clinics.
 
“Free clinics in Vermont and around the country are struggling to pay medical malpractice insurance premiums, due to an ambiguity in the federal law,” said Leahy.  “Free clinics currently purchase malpractice insurance for their board members, employees, contractors and officers.  Purchasing this coverage diverts thousands of dollars annually from each of the free clinics in the country.  These are funds that could be directed to providing necessary healthcare to the uninsured.”
 
The Leahy-authored legislation will make clear that the same medical malpractice coverage under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) should be extended to community health centers and 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.   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.
 
There are seven free health clinics in Vermont that 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 legislation introduced Wednesday would provide some significant relief to cash-strapped clinics.

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