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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Community health centers: Coming to a neighborhood near you

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

When most people hear “health care,” they think of doctor’s offices or hospitals. But did you know that community health centers across the United States serve as the primary health care location for nearly 19 million Americans? And patients are accepted there regardless of whether they’re insured or even have the means to pay.

For lower-income Americans struggling to make ends meet, these local health centers serve as a vital lifeline, ensuring that they can see a doctor when they get sick, offering preventive services like diabetes testing and vaccinations, and providing substance abuse counseling. That’s why during economic downturns like the one we’re currently experiencing, it’s more important than ever that these programs are well funded. As the number of the uninsured rises, more and more Americans depend on community health centers for their health care needs.

Thankfully, the Obama administration recognizes what a critical role health centers play in reducing health disparities among minorities and serving as a safety net for people who are currently uninsured. The Affordable Care Act allocates $11 billion for the expansion of community health centers in the next five years, with the largest chunk of it going toward the creation of new centers in underserved communities and the expansion of preventive and primary care services in existing centers.

Next week, $250 million will be available to support the creation of 350 new community health centers across the country in fiscal year 2011 alone! In even better news, this money has already been appropriated by Congress and won’t add a dime to the federal deficit.

This is not only good news for the 19 million Americans who depend on community health centers for basic health services, but it’s also good for local economies. According to a fact sheet from Healthcare.gov, “In 2009, community health centers across the nation injected more than $11 billion in operating expenditures directly into their local economies.”

Additionally, in total, community health centers employ more than 9,100 physicians and more than 5,700 nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, and certified midwives across the country.

A plan that puts health outcomes and local economies first? Now that’s a plan we can get behind.