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New Study Highlights Critical Role of CHCs in Health Care System
Report Also Documents Impact of CHC Funding Cuts on Patient Care
By James Arvantes • Washington
CHCs provide care to more than 20 million patients at 8,100 health care delivery sites throughout the United States, serving as a virtual lifeline for millions of low-income Americans.
"Health centers are required to target communities that are 'high-need' in terms of access to care, and they also are required to offer services that break down barriers to care," said Hawkins. Yet, at least one quarter of U.S. counties with the highest need indicators for primary care do not have a health center, according to the NACHC report, Health Wanted: the State of Unmet Need for Primary Health Care in America.
- The demand for basic primary care services among the nation's uninsured and underinsured patients outpaces the resources of community health centers (CHCs), according to a new report released by the National Association of Community Health Centers.
- At least one quarter of U.S. counties with the highest need indicators for primary care do not have a health center, the report states.
- Among counties with the highest proportion of uninsured individuals, half lack a health center, and more than half of counties with the lowest numbers of primary care health professionals do not have a health center.
- The report touts the economic benefits of CHCs in saving the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year.
Consequently, the report notes, the number of Americans who forgo or delay needed care has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
Ready to Expand
In Arkansas, for example, officials applied for funding for six health center expansions and one new CHC, but none of the requests was funded, said Sip Mouden, M.S., CEO of the Community Health Centers of Arkansas Inc., which represents more than 12 health centers that operate in 75 sites throughout the state.
"We are looking forward to increasing the funding for health centers so that we can expand the number and reach of health centers in our state," said Mouden. "In Arkansas, we have 550,000 people who don't have a medical home. And that is really pitiful."
In the current fiscal year, Congress has allocated $200 million for CHCs from the dedicated funding stream established as part of the Affordable Care Act. This should allow Congress to approve more of the grant applications for CHC expansions, said Hawkins.
Addressing Unmet Needs
- barriers to care, such as affordability, availability and accessibility
- poor health outcomes, often caused by a lack of preventive screenings and other interventions and
- adverse economic consequences that can be traced back to the use of emergency rooms and hospitals rather than primary care.
"There is not a health center that was created in Washington or in a state capital," he observed. "Every single health center in America grew out of a felt need from a local community that said, 'We need health care.'"
The report also touts the economic benefits of CHCs, noting, for example, that the centers save the health care system $24 billion a year by enhancing access to health care services and improving the health of patients.
Moreover, the report describes CHCs as an "engine for primary care resources in their communities."
"For example, they are currently the place of employment for 40 percent of all National Health Service Corps program participants who receive scholarships or loan repayment to serve in areas needing additional professionals," the report states.
"Additionally, nearly 80 percent of health centers are engaged in training health professionals. Research shows that health center-trained physicians are more than twice as likely as their nonhealth center-trained counterparts to work in an underserved area."