State could fund three new health centers, including one in Bristol

BRISTOL — An organization looking to start a clinic in Bristol and two other Vermont health care organizations that were not granted aid to create Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) last year might get an injection of funds from an unexpected donor — a health insurance company that violated state law.
Last month, UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co. agreed to pay a $250,000 penalty to state regulators for failing to file proper paperwork for its advertising in Vermont. With some of that money in hand, the House Health Care Committee has contacted Bristol’s Five Town Health Alliance (5THA) and two organizations in Arlington and Randolph that previously applied for FQHC status.
All of the organizations were seeking around $100,000 to create and operate scaled-back health centers that resemble FQHCs, said Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln and chairman of the House Health Care Committee.
By taking $140,000 of the UnitedHealthcare funds, combining that with state funds that are already set aside for this purpose and using available federal “match money,” the Vermont Legislature — if it agrees — could provide the necessary funding to jumpstart the three new health centers for low-income patients, according to Fisher.
“What better way to spend that money? Illegal advertising turns into better health care for Vermonters,” Fisher said during a town meeting-style forum with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at Bristol’s Holley Hall on Sunday (see story, page 3A).
The proposition has made its way onto the House floor and was due for a vote by the end of the week, said Fisher.
“I believe there’s broad support for it in the Senate,” he said. “I believe there’s broad support for it in the (Shumlin) administration. So while it’s not done until the bill’s passed and signed, I feel confident that we’re poised to take an important step forward and have an FQHC look-alike here in Bristol.”
The 5THA learned last April that it would not get a $650,000 federal grant it had applied for to create an FQHC in Bristol. The Alliance did, however, receive a high enough evaluation score from federal officials to place it on a list for reevaluation.
Nancy Marnellos, 5THA president, said the $650,000 would be necessary to create a full-on FQHC, but that with $110,000 in aid, the nonprofit could still set up a health clinic.
“We could actually get up and running with (that amount),” she said. “It wouldn’t look as large as a full FQHC, but we would be eligible for federal benefits that come along with FQHC status.”
She said the center would still provide dental services, but wouldn’t have a full-service dental clinic. It would provide behavioral-health services, but wouldn’t have a full-service mental health clinic.
If the Legislature OK’s this appropriation, said Marnellos, the 5THA will still be considered for FQHC funds until October of this year. If the nonprofit didn’t receive that funding by October, it would have to reapply.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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