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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Community health centers playing a key role

Kate Blocher

Staff Writer

Community health centers play a key role in providing access to primary and preventive health care, especially to historically underserved populations in rural or low-income neighborhoods. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, “1,200 health centers deliver care through over 7,500 service delivery sites in every state and territory.”

In Wisconsin, their health centers alone “provide care to nearly 244,000 people statewide, up from 89,392 in 1999. That's roughly 80,000 people in Milwaukee, or about one in seven residents.” However, although the number of community health centers has doubled over the past decade, the skyrocketing number of uninsured people and Medicaid recipients has lead to a shortage of centers. Luckily, the crafters of the newly enacted health reform law recognized the importance of these centers and provided a substantial investment in them.

The new health reform law allocates $11 billion in new funds for community health centers over the next five years. This provides needed funding and a tremendous opportunity for health centers across the country as they see an influx of newly insured patients. According to Daniel Hawkins, senior vice president for public policy and research at the National Association of Community Health Centers, "It is the only way the system is going to be able to accommodate the increase in demand[.]"

One-third to one-half of the additional 32 million people estimated to be among the newly insured by 2019 will get coverage by expanding Medicaid programs. And a large share of them will live in areas served by community health centers.

Through this increased funding, health centers could double their numbers, resulting in more than one in 10 people getting care through a community health center. Some communities already use community health centers as their primary source of care. In 2008, approximately two-thirds of those who used community health centers were racial or ethnic minorities: 33 percent were Latino, 28 percent were African American, 4 percent were Asian, and 2 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native.

Further, community health centers provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care to all residents regardless of insurance status, citizenship status, or ability to pay. With the expansion in funding, CHCs will continue to serve as an important safety net for millions of individuals.

Community health centers have come a long way since their inception in 1965 through Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. They now serve a substantial portion of our population and with this new funding provided by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they will be able to play an even larger role in providing care for many of the newly insured as well as previously underserved populations.