Our country’s health centers serve 22.3 million people annually and, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers, it is a figure that is rapidly growing,
Also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers, health centers are nonprofit, community-directed providers that are located in predominantly low-income and medically underserved communities.
The high-quality, affordable primary and preventative care services that they provide are available to all patients, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. In fact, 2013 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that more than 70 percent of health center patients have family incomes below the federal poverty level.
The same report also revealed that over a third of all health center patients are uninsured and almost 40 percent are Medicaid enrollees. In addition, the majority of these patients are from racial and ethnic minority groups.
Numerous studies have shown that the benefits of community health centers are not just limited to the patients that they serve. Increasing access to care for the most vulnerable populations reduces health disparities between minority and nonminority groups residing in the same community. Health centers also save our nation money. According to National Association of Community Health Centers, the cost of providing care to a health center patient is typically 24 to 50 percent lower than the cost for individuals served in other settings. This translates to an estimated $24 billion in health system savings annually due to lower use of emergency departments, costly specialty care and hospitals.
So even if you are not a health center patient, fewer Americans relying on expensive sources of care significantly reduces the burden on you as a taxpayer.
Furthermore, community health centers make our health system more efficient by ensuring that quality of care is not sacrificed for the sake of lowering costs. In fact, a 2011 study found that the quality of care provided at health centers is equal to or even greater than the quality of care provided elsewhere. Better care means fewer visits to the doctor’s office, which ultimately results in healthier patients and healthier communities.
In the hopes of enhancing the visibility of health centers and generating community support for health center programs, the National Association of Community Health Centers has sponsored National Health Center Week annually for nearly 30 years. This year’s theme is “Celebrating America’s Health Centers: Transforming Health Care in Our Local Communities.” The 2013 festivities run Sunday through Saturday.
Health centers across the nation are finding creative ways to increase awareness of their programs and celebrate their achievements, from hosting community health fairs to coordinating site visits with local, state and federal legislators. As our nation gears up for full implementation of healthcare reform, it is important to recognize community health centers as vital assets to the neighborhoods and individuals that they serve.
For more information on National Health Center Week events happening near you, please visit www.healthcenterweek.org.
Vivian Nguyen is a Community Affairs Intern at Community Clinic Consortium, which is a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.