Community Health Centers: Can They Plug the Gaps in the Safety Net?

Community health centers (CHCs) play a critical role in providing care to vulnerable populations, especially at a time when employer-sponsored coverage has declined and the demand for safety-net services has gone up. Currently, there are more than 1,100 community health centers providing care to approximately 20.2 million people in every state across the U.S.

The centers have historically received bipartisan support: under the George W. Bush administration, the number of patients seen by CHCs doubled. And under President Obama, an additional $2 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was provided to CHCs to expand their operations and build new centers.

These centers are in a unique position to serve the millions more who will gain coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Nearly forty percent of current CHC patients have no health insurance; approximately one third are children. Though questions remain as to which states will opt for the Medicaid expansion provisions in the law, there is little doubt that many more residents will be served by CHCs.

Researchers have shown that the quality of care in federally qualified community health centers compares favorably to primary care in other settings. In fact, according to a recent study, they perform equal to, or better than, private practices on a number of quality-care measures, despite the social and medical complexities of their patient populations.

Who do community health centers currently serve and how will this change as the health reform law plays out? How are CHCs faring in the current economic environment? Is there sufficient federal oversight of their operations? How are states and safety-net systems planning for 2014 and the challenges and opportunities presented under the ACA? What will be the impact of scheduled cuts to discretionary programs under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the sequester)?

To address these questions and more, the Alliance for Health Reform and the Centene Corporation sponsored a July 23 briefing. Speakers were: Laurie Felland, Center for Studying Health System Change; Dan Hawkins, National Association of Community Health Centers; Henry Taylor, Miles Square Health Center, IL; Steven Shattls, Valley Health Systems, WV; and Dr. Elisa Nicholas, The Children’s Clinic, Long Beach, CA. Helen Bryson of Centene and Ed Howard of the Alliance co-moderated.

Transcript

Full Transcript (Adobe Acrobat PDF)

Speaker Presentations

Dan Hawkins Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)
Laurie Felland Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)
Henry Taylor Presentation (Adobe Acrobat PDF)