Spread across 50 states and all U.S. territories, there are 1,200 Community Health Centers that provide vital primary care to 20 million Americans with limited financial resources.
Directed by boards with majority consumer membership, health centers focus on meeting the basic health care needs of their individual communities. Health centers maintain an open-door policy, providing treatment regardless of an individual’s income or insurance coverage.
Health centers serve the homeless, residents of public housing, migrant farm workers and others with emergent and chronic health care needs, but limited resources to secure treatment through traditional channels.
Health centers provide substantial benefits to their communities:
- They serve 20% of low-income, uninsured people.
- 70% of their patients live in poverty.
- They provide comprehensive care, including physical, mental and dental care.
- They save the national health care system between $9.9 billion and $17.6 billion a year by helping patients avoid emergency rooms and making better use of preventive services.
The need to reform our health care system has been embraced by almost every component of society. Growing numbers of people are uninsured or they have insurance but little or no access to basic health care services. The toll of unmet health care needs is incalculable. For over forty years health centers have broken many barriers to health care in America’s poorest communities, while also customizing their services to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
As health care costs continue to rise so does the need. Health centers welcome anyone in need of care, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
- 46 million Americans lack insurance.
- 56 million Americans lack access to a doctor specifically because of local shortages of primary care physicians. Many of them actually have insurance.
- Nearly 1,500 counties across the every state have disenfranchised populations and do not have a health center.
- $18 billion a year is wasted on unnecessary visits to hospital emergency rooms for health care that could and should be provided by a health center.
How Health Centers Make a Difference
Since the nation’s first health centers opened in 1965, expansion of the federally-supported health center system to 1,200 organizations has created an affordable health care option for 20 million people. In providing health care to a population that couldn’t otherwise afford it, health centers provide a huge benefit to the greater American society:
- Highly efficient and cost-effective care, which reduces or eliminates the need for more costly care such as emergency room visits and avoidable hospital stays. This in turn generates significant savings to the entire health care system.
- Better preventive care, including screening, diagnosis and management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, heart and lung disease, depression, cancer and HIV/AIDS.
- Reduced infant mortality by as much as 40 percent in communities served by a health center, and also reduce rates of low birth weight.
- Save the Medicaid program as much as 30 percent while still delivering high quality care to their low-income patients enrolled in Medicaid.
(REPRINTED FROM THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS)