Community Health Centers were born out of the ideals embodied in the Great Society legislation pushed through by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the anti-poverty ideals embodied in the civil rights movement. As the Kaiser Family Foundation reports:
Health centers are essential to the care of individuals with no health care at all or those on Medicaid. While health centers must target services to medically underserved communities or populations, they are also required to service the entire community. Health centers provide comprehensive primary care services, including physical, mental, and oral health services, as well as "enabling services", including transportation, translation, and case management, to ensure patients can access health services.
Health centers rely heavily on Medicaid dollars to fund their operations; Medicaid accounts for over one-third of community health centers’ total operating budget. In addition, community health centers get funding through the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill (Labor HHS bill), but these funds contribute less than one-fourth of the needed costs to allow these centers to provide care to their communities.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law in 2010, included an investment of $11 billion over 5 years to support the continuing operation of health centers, create new health center sites, expand the services provided at existing sites, fund outreach and enrollment, and allow for construction and renovation of health centers. As a result of ACA implementation, the number of health center patients is expected to increase significantly. The overall number of uninsured patients is expected to drop, but the percentage of health center patients that are uninsured will likely remain high, especially in states that do not expand Medicaid.
The budget caps and funding cuts put into place by the 2011 Budget Control Act have eroded some of the gains from the ACA investment by shrinking the discretionary funding base for health centers. As a result, many health centers are struggling to maintain their current service capacity rather than expanding services, as was the intention of the ACA investment.
Additionally, the five-year ACA investment will expire in 2015, creating a potential "funding cliff". Without a commitment to continue the higher level of federal funding, it is estimated that the number of patients served by health centers could decrease by over one-quarter between 2014 and 2020. In contrast, if the higher funding levels are maintained, the number of patients could grow by over 40 percent.
Many factors contribute to the need for increased federal money for community health centers, including:
To better understand the critical role that community health centers play in our safety net, we strongly urge you to visit or call your local community health center and speak to someone about the work they do there and their needs to better care for the underserved.
Reaching out to your local health center is important in gaining a better understanding of their needs, struggles and successes. When you can assess your local health centers you can efficiently advocate on behalf of their needs. Not only does it give you a greater understanding on their behalf but it also gives you a personal connection to the issue. To find your local community health center: http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/. In addition, you may want to reach out to your state/regional primary care association: http://www.nachc.com/nachc-pca-listing.cfm. If your group has the time to reach out to your local community health center(s) before the conference, you will be able to share those local stories and statistics during your Hill visits.