Celebrating America’s Health Centers: Local Engines for Healthier Communities
By Annie Neasman
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about how the world of health care is changing around us. The good news is that more people are gaining access to insurance coverage, but the bad news is that there are still 62 million people who do not have access to primary care. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), people from all walks of life are affected. Nearly half (42 percent) are low-income and 28 percent living in rural areas—and, surprisingly, the vast majority of those affected doing have an insurance card.
This year, National Health Center Week is recognized from Sunday, August 10 thru 16, 2014. The Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc., as well as others throughout south Florida and the nation, will take part in a weeklong celebration to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s Health Centers as local solutions for affordable and accessible health care.
One of the bright spots in America’s health care system, Community Health Centers has traditionally drawn praise from bipartisan Members of Congress, as well as the White House. The Community Health Center safety net serves over 22 million people across the country and has been successful in:
- Reducing income and ethnic health disparities nationwide, even in the poorest and most challenged communities
- Producing $24 billion in annual health system savings
- Reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and unnecessary visits to the ER
- Generating a system of preventive medicine that patients use regularly to stay healthy, thus saving lives.
People need both insurance coverage and access to care. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided resources to double the size of Community Health Centers over five years to ensure their capacity can meet the demand for care now and in the future. Today, health centers serve over 22 million people nationwide. They provide high quality care and save the health care system $24 billion a year from reduced hospitalizations and visits to the ER. However, ACA funding is scheduled to run out by the end of 2015 and health centers face a reduction of up to 70 percent in grant funding. Such a shortfall could be disastrous in our community. Many South Floridians, who typically receive care from quality centers like the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, will be limited in their ability to make doctor’s appointments. These patients will end up using hospital emergency rooms for care – lengthening the already long wait time to receive medical attention. This would be the scenario playing out in medically underserved communities all over America.
Loss of funding will also affect the National Health Service Corps and Teaching Health Center programs that are focused on growing the supply of primary care providers as demand for care ramps up. Congress must act now to address this problem before it undermines stability and sustainability of our health care system and reverses the critical progress our nation has made toward opening access and strengthening primary care and prevention.
Fortunately, the solution is not only simple, but foolproof. Health centers are a proven model that has delivered multiple returns on the federal investment for the past 50 years—better access, cost-savings, and even jobs. This is a prescription that we as a nation cannot afford to squander. But don’t take my word for it –visit a health center near you and see for yourself how we work to keep communities healthy and out of the hospital ER.