President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday the government is spending almost $600 million for community health centers and for a push to transfer medical records to electronic formats.
The White House 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.
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.
The president also said as much as $88 million more will go to health care facilities to "transfer old paper files to electronic medical records" and to upgrade technologies.
"These investments won't just increase efficiency and lower costs," Obama said, flanked by members of Congress and addressing community health leaders. "They'll improve the quality of care as well, preventing countless medical errors and allowing providers to spend less time with paperwork and more time with patients."
Obama also signed a memo directing 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.
"But we don't just want our health centers to provided more care for more patients. We want them to provide better care as well," Obama said.
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 in a statement.
Lawmakers included $2 billion to expand health services to low-income and uninsured Americans. Almost half has been spent already.
"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 in a statement. "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."
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