BOSTON — U.S. Sen. Ed Markey is touting a new proposal that calls for spending hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade to deal with climate change and its impact on economic inequality and health care access.
The Democratic-led proposal, which was unveiled last month, calls for dramatically increasing federal funding for community health centers that were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of a broader effort to improve access to health care for “under-served” communities.
Markey said the proposal is an attempt to deal with the “simultaneous crises” of climate change, social and economic inequality and barriers to health care.
“This is a crisis,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in live-streamed remarks at a Lawrence health clinic on Wednesday, flanked by local officials. “Frontline communities are suffering the impacts of climate change, and the pandemic has stretched our health care system to the brink.”
The plan calls for spending $130 billion over five years on community health centers like Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, through the existing federal Community Health Center Fund. The grant funding would be prioritized for “under-served” communities.
It would also spend $100 billion over 10 years to expand the community health workforce and $9 billion in “climate and health education” and training grants for health care workers, including physicians, nurses, midwives and other medical professionals, Markey said.
Another $5 billion per year would be spent on scientific research into solutions and innovations for the “climate-health crisis” under Markey’s plan.
The plan also calls for reviving a New Deal-era program by authorizing $100 billion in federal grants to be awarded to public and nonprofit medical facilities seeking to improve their climate resilience and disaster mitigation efforts.
Markey didn’t discuss how the multi-billion dollar plan would be paid for, but argues that the investments are necessary to help blunt the impact of climate change and ensure that the health care system is more equitable and can deal with the effects of a warming planet.
Supporters of the legislation have cited data showing that an estimated 100 million Americans lack access to primary health care, contrasted against other studies revealing that 90% of the nation’s inhabitants live in regions hit with a “climate disaster” in the last decade.
At least 40% live in counties that faced a climate disaster in 2021, he noted, while more than 600 hospitals face the risk of closure across the country.
Michael Curry, president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, is among those who supports Markey’s proposal. He said there is a direct connection between public health in low-income and minority communities and the worsening impacts of climate change.
“Some may wonder about health care and climate change — isn’t that an odd pairing?” he said at Wednesday’s event. “But they actually go hand-in-hand.”
To be sure, the new legislation is separate from Markey’s signature “Green New Deal” environmental proposal, which was refiled for a fourth time in April along with New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
That proposal has failed to gain much traction on Capitol Hill, with fiscal watchdogs criticizing its hefty price tag and the lack of proposals to pay for it.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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