Since first coming to the U.S. Senate in 1962, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy consistently served as a leading advocate for improving our nation's health. He consistently supported comprehensive and universal national health insurance coverage; but he also recognized that insurance alone would not guarantee good health. Accordingly, he also served as the founder and champion of the Community, Migrant and Homeless Health Center programs, along with the National Health Service Corps and Health Professions Training programs, thereby assuring the existence of a responsive delivery system, focused on prevention and true access to comprehensive and high-quality care, best suited to the needs of local populations.
Ted Kennedy is elected to fill the Senate seat vacated by his brother, President John F. Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy is invited by health center founders Jack Geiger and Count Gibson to visit the demonstration Columbia Point Health Center in Boston – the very first OEO-funded “neighborhood health center,” which successfully brought health care to low-income residents of the community. Impressed with the health center’s ability to provide treatment to low-income populations, and aware of a similar facility directed by Dr. Geiger in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, he sees in the two health centers a model that could be replicated across the nation to provide more health care to people who need it. He begins his life’s work advancing health care for the poor by introducing an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act to set aside $51 million to fund another 30 centers around the country.

This success was the very beginning of Senator Kennedy’s long journey to make health care a right for all Americans, not a privilege of the few.

Kennedy works with House and Senate colleagues on legislation to extend Migrant Health program signed into law by his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in 1962, and which for first time authorizes grants to community-based entities to operate migrant health clinics.

Kennedy co-authors the Emergency Health Personnel Act of 1970 (S. 4106, P.L. 91-623), establishing the new National Health Service Corps (NHSC) program to place trained health care providers in Health Professions Shortage Communities (HPSAs), then adds to the program by establishing the NHSC Scholarship program in 1972.

Kennedy authors S. 66, the Health Services and Nurse Training Amendments of 1975, which establishes for the first time in law the Community Health Centers program at Sec. 330 of PHS Act (after 10 years as an OEO demonstration effort). The bill also reauthorizes the Migrant Health program at Sec. 329, and for both programs sets minimum service and consumer-majority policy board requirements. The bill becomes law (P.L. 94-63) only after House and Senate each override President Ford's veto, with strong support from NACHC and its members.
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Supporting a new Primary Care Initiative, Kennedy secures passage of his Bill S. 2474 (P.L. 95-626), the Health Services and Centers Amendments of 1978, to reauthorize the Community Health Centers, Migrant Health, and National Health Service Corps while both expanding required services and allowing limited grants to qualified public entities as health centers.
Ronald Reagan takes Presidency, calls for sea change in role of federal government including elimination of hundreds of federal programs and block granting of others (including Community and Migrant Health Centers) to states. Although now part of Senate minority, Kennedy leads successful effort with NACHC support to stop Reagan plan, resulting in optional block grant taken by only one state, and allowing health centers to survive greatest threat in their brief history (P.L. 97-35).
Still in minority, Kennedy teams with Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee Chair Orrin Hatch of Utah and NACHC to rally sufficient bipartisan support to repeal optional block grant and return program to direct federal-local partnership basis; then creates special Comprehensive Perinatal Care initiative within CHC and MH programs, triggering the first new health centers funding since 1981 (except for one-time ‘Jobs Bill’ funding during 1982-83 recession) and allowing health centers to develop special activities to reduce infant mortality in low-income and minority communities (P.L.s 99-117. 99-280, and 99-660).
As new Chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Kennedy overcomes strong opposition from the Reagan Administration and shepherds S. 1158, the Public Health Service Amendments of 1987, to Congressional passage and enactment (P.L. 100-177), extending the NHSC Scholarship and field placement programs and establishing a new NHSC Loan Repayment program, along with a one-time amnesty program for clinicians who had defaulted in repaying their NHSC Scholarships.

Separately, Kennedy leads the Congressional effort to enact the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, authorizing programs and activities to address an epidemic of homelessness gripping America, including the establishment of a new Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) program at Sec. 340 of the PHS Act (P.L. 100-77).
Kennedy authors S. 2385, the Community and Migrant Health Centers Amendments of 1988, and leads it to Congressional passage and enactment, extending and strengthening the CHC and MH programs, centralizing the federal grant-making authority in the HRSA central office, providing greater flexibility by freeing health centers’ excess non-grant income from federal grant restrictions. (P.L. 100-386).
Kennedy collaborates closely with House colleagues to pass the National Health Service Corps Revitalization Amendments of 1990 (P.L. 101-597), revitalizing and extending the NHSC program for 10 years, through 2000, and creating both a new State Loan Repayment program and a Community Scholarship program.
Kennedy leads Senate effort to pass the Federally-Supported Health Centers Assistance Act (P.L. 102-501), extending malpractice coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to health centers as the only non-governmental covered entities under the FTCA.
Under Kennedy’s leadership, Congress enacts the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66), creating a new universal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program and another new program (340B) requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to sell medicines to health centers and other safety net providers at deeply discounted rates.
Returning to minority status, Kennedy works closely with NACHC and Committee Chair Nancy Kassebaum to stave off efforts by House GOP leaders to cut or eliminate federal programs and instead pass S. 1044, the Health Centers Consolidation Act (P.L. 104-299), consolidating formerly separate authorities for Migrant, Homeless, Public Housing, and Community Health Centers into one section (330), allowing support for planning and development of health center-owned networks and managed care plans, and creating a new loan guarantee fund for facility construction and for managed care networks and plans to replace the repealed construction grant authority.
Still in minority, Kennedy teams with HELP Committee Chair Bill Frist and NACHC to secure unanimous Congressional passage of S. 1533, the Health Care Safety Net Amendments Act (P.L. 107-251), extending the consolidated Health Centers program and the NHSC programs through 2006, allowing operational grants for health center-owned networks, revising NHSC placement priorities and site requirements, providing automatic HPSA designation to all FQHC sites, and creating a new Healthy Communities Access Program (HCAP) to coordinate care for uninsured.
Kennedy, returning to HELP Committee Chair position, works with NACHC and others to fend off proposed changes in MUA/HPSA designation methodologies that would have severely limited future growth, and to secure unanimous Congressional approval of the Health Centers Renewal Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-355), an historic 4-year reauthorization of both the CHC and NHSC programs, with specific authorized funding levels for each program for the first time since 1988, rising to $3.5 billion for CHCs, and NHSC to $186 million, in FY 2012. Congressional support for CHCs surpasses the $2 billion mark, double the FY 2000 funding level.
Today, as a direct result of Senator Kennedy's vision and leadership since he was a 34-year-old first-term senator, 20 million low-income Americans receive access to quality primary care at 1,200 Community Health Centers across all 50 states, D.C., and the U.S. territories. And, with the strong support of Senator Kennedy, the National Health Care Reform Legislation as reported by the Senate HELP Committee not only calls for national, universal, and comprehensive health insurance coverage; but also for significantly expanding the Community Health Centers and National Health Service Corps programs to ensure a health care home for the newly insured.
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