U.S. House Passes Bill to Bolster School-Based Health Centers

    A bill that would will help deliver primary care, dental screenings and mental health services to students in low-income and underserved communities passed by voice vote in the U.S. House of Representatives late Tuesday.

    The School-Based Health Centers Reauthorization Act, sponsored by Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.), would continue federal support for school-based health centers through 2025. The statutory authorization had expired in 2014.

    These centers offer a range of affordable health services to at-risk children, from primary medical care and vision care to substance abuse counseling and case management, and over a third of them are located in rural areas.

    “Teams of professionals, I think, is how you describe these School-Based Health Centers across the country,” Sarbanes said on the House floor Tuesday.

    “And they really marshal response to the needs of young people in schools in a way that you really can’t replicate anywhere else in the community – that’s why they’re so vital. They offer comprehensive health care to youth, delivering it in a setting where they already spend obviously much of their time – in a sense, a captive audience.”

    There are 80 school-based health centers in Maryland and over 2,500 across the country. Usually schools and community health organizations partner to create a location that is safe and convenient for students to access health care. Areas with school-based health centers have higher graduation rates and lower cases of asthma and hospital admissions, Sarbanes said.

    Students are 10 times more likely to seek mental health counseling when these centers are accessible, according to School-Based Health Alliance.

    “And now, of course, the services that School-Based Health Centers provide are needed more than ever, given the coronavirus pandemic. Young people are grappling with uncertainty and changes to their lives and being able to receive care in a familiar and supportive setting is critically important,” Sarbanes said.

    The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), with four bipartisan cosponsors, has not emerged from committee.

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    Elizabeth Shwe
    Shwe covered California state politics during her internship at The Sacramento Bee. She is a 2020 graduate of Princeton University with a degree in political science. At Princeton she was a producer for WPRB 103.3 FM News & Culture section, the station’s only long form podcast-type program. Shwe also wrote for The Daily Princetonian, and tutored with the Petey Greene Program, which offers free tutoring to incarcerated people. Shwe is a Report for America corps member.