The North Carolina Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA) serves as the collective voice for North Carolina’s 34 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Look-alikes (LAs). Federally Qualified Health Centers (aka Community Health Centers) are geographically dispersed across 64 counties and operate nearly 180 clinical sites. In 2012, FQHCs served over 466,000 patients. FQHCs provide a patient-governed, patient-centered health care home that integrates high quality medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, and enabling services without regard to a person’s ability to pay.
Community Health Centers serve the primary health care needs of more than 22 million patients in over 9,000 locations across America. They play a crucial role in the nation’s health care system, providing affordable health services for millions of uninsured, the working poor and newly jobless Americans. Health centers are good for the country. They lower overall health care costs, improve the health of their patients and generate economic opportunities in the communities they serve by providing jobs and training for local people.
Community Health Centers create savings in health care every time a patient opts for an exam and treatment at the first sign of a health issue instead of waiting until a costly emergency room visit or hospitalization is the only option. Each health center takes a tailored approach to meet the unique needs of the people in its surrounding community. That local approach to health care, combined with an emphasis on comprehensive preventative care, generates $24 billion in annual savings to the health care system - for the American taxpayer, local, state and federal governments and public and private payers alike.
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. The consequence? A growing need for the services provided by health centers. Health centers welcome anyone in need of care, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
- 46 million Americans lack insurance.
- 60 million people 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.
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.
For over four decades, America’s Health Centers have demonstrated a long and rich history of adapting to challenge. Today, those challenges are more daunting than ever. The number of uninsured patients getting care at health centers grew 62 percent since 2000, the most significant growth in the program’s history. One of the fastest growing segments of health center patients are people in the age range of 45 to 64, who are living in poverty and are chronically ill. Health centers now serve 1 in 7 uninsured people nationally, including 1 in 5 of the low income, uninsured. Demand is at an all time high, and health centers are responding by expanding their reach and building the workforce and facilities to answer the need.
Tomorrow’s challenges are even bigger. America faces a shortage of primary care physicians that could exceed 40,000 by 2035. Experts also predict that the numbers of uninsured in America could reach as high as 60 million – with one of every five Americans uninsured by the end of the decade. In addition, health disparities are widening for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians and other racial and ethnic minorities.
Health centers have launched a plan, ACCESS for All America, to nearly double their current capacity – to serve 30 million people – by the year 2015. Affordable and accessible health care can transform the neediest communities by narrowing health disparities, eliminating low birth weights, reducing chronic disease and unnecessary hospitalizations. With a modest investment toward expanding health care access, we can produce healthier families and healthier communities. Imagine the difference. If everyone in America had access to a health care home, the health care system would save $67 billion annually.