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Monday, August 12, 2013

Community Health Centers Will Help Enroll Millions in Health Care Coverage Available under the Affordable Care Act

Molly Feder

Staff Writer

The week of August 11 is National Health Center Week, and there is reason to celebrate these important organizations. Community health centers provide health services to low-income and medically underserved communities, removing barriers to care that these communities regularly face. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, community health centers are taking on a new and crucial role: outreach and enrollment efforts to connect people to the new coverage options available under the health care law.

In the United States, health centers serve approximately 22.3 million people who need help getting health care services. Thirty-six percent of the patients at community health centers are uninsured, Forty percent are on Medicaid, Seventy-two percent have incomes that are at or below the federal poverty line ($11,490 for an individual in 2013), and many are from racial and ethnic minority groups. Through health centers, these underserved populations are able to get necessary medical care including behavioral, dental, and pharmaceutical services.

Historically, community health centers have also played an important role in health education and promotion. With open enrollment for health insurance through states’ insurance marketplaces beginning on October 1, community health centers are continuing this tradition and engaging in crucial outreach efforts in underserved areas to inform people about their new options under the Affordable Care Act and to encourage them to enroll.

Community health centers have been reaching out to consumers by organizing community meetings, distributing educational materials, and providing community members with phone numbers that they can call to receive unbiased information about their health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act. Consumers will also be able to turn to community health centers to better understand the new marketplaces and to find out how much the new insurance plans will cost, how much financial help they can get to pay for them, and how to pay for coverage. They can also find out whether Medicaid  and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are options for them or their children. 

Outreach by community health centers will be critical to ensuring a successful enrollment period come October 1. Their efforts will ensure that they continue to be a trusted, essential source of information for consumers in low-income and vulnerable communities, and their success will mean that these communities will finally have a real opportunity to get the health coverage they need.