In the United States alone, each year almost 20 million people use community health centers or CHCs — neighborhood health centers where low-income men and women can receive medical services regardless of their insurance status. But with the budget crisis in full effect and a federal committee making $1.2 trillion cuts by Thanksgiving, the Center for American Progress is urging that the crucial and cost-saving CHCs not be left by the wayside.
So why should we fight for these types of centers?
The Center for American Progress gives two pretty solid reasons. They wrote:
1. CHCs are a smart investment: CHCs provide a huge savings to our already fragile health care system. According to past studies, the total cost of care for CHC patients is 31 percent lower than care for individuals served by other providers. In 2010, CHCs saved the health care system $24 billion by reducing the need for more expensive emergency room, hospital inpatient and specialty care. Currently, CHCs serve more than 20 million people, but if they were allowed to expand their capacity to serve even 30 million people nationwide by 2015, these savings would double to $40 billion annually. Not to mention, CHCs create more jobs—in 2009, community health centers generated $20 billion and produced 189,158 jobs.
2. CHCs close that widening health disparity gap: When some people think of CHCs, they think "sub par health care." But that isn't necessarily true. CHCs have proven successful at reducing racial and ethnic health disparities because they are not only aware of these disparities but they make it their goal to correct for them. In many ways CHCs are ahead of larger health care providers by emphasizing the importance of cultural competency. By better understanding cultural differences, CHCs have more successful interactions with patients and can avoid the frustration both the patient and the health care provider experience when communication is difficult. These approaches impact our community: we make up 25.8 percent of their patients. Just think—if they got more funding, how much more of us could access these clinics for care?
While, originally, President Obama's Affordable Care Act planned on funding an additional $11 billion over the next five years to CHCs, CHCs budget has been cut by $600 million and experts fear that this money will never be reimbursed back to the program. This could translate into a 30 percent loss over the next five years for CHCs. And if the federal committee makes even more cuts from CHCs by the end of the year, people of color and people living on or near the poverty line—the same folks who are disproportionately impacted by health disparities—are the ones who will be the most affected.
To learn more about the benefits of CHCs and CHCs in your area, go to the National Association of Community Health Centers' website here.