Affordable Care Act Funds to Expand Services at the Nation's Community Health Centers

Posted June 3, 2014
Dr. Mary Wakefield, Ph.D, R.N.

Health centers are an essential part of the U.S. health system.  In small towns and in cities, in every state across the nation, they help prevent and treat illness and help people with chronic health problems. Today, I want to tell you about a new investment in health centers that will allow them to reach even more people than the 21 million they currently serve.  As a result of the Affordable Care Act,  the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is announcing the availability of $300 million to help the nation’s community health centers continue to expand service hours; hire more medical providers; increase availability of medical services; and add services such as oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and/or vision services.

While many people are aware that the health reform law is connecting millions of Americans with health insurance coverage, this same law is also markedly expanding the availability of primary health care services that research clearly shows can improve health and save costs.  Recognizing the power of primary care, the Affordable Care Act invested substantial funding to expand the number of health center service delivery sites, the range of services provided, and the hours those services are available.  Now, these new additional resources will help health centers serve people even better.  Whether treating a young mother with depression or a senior citizen with high blood pressure or a child needing an oral health exam, strengthening health centers means strengthening the nation’s health. 

In the last five years, the Obama administration has provided  support to more than 680 new health center access points, expanded service capacity at more than 1,100 health centers, and supported the construction or modernization of more than 2,300 sites nationwide.

As important as these settings are to the health of Americans, they also have a direct impact on the health of communities.  Since 2008, health centers have added more than 35,000 new full‐time positions, they now employ more than 148,000 staff nationwide. This includes: 2,200 additional physicians, 2,400 additional nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives, 2,700 additional nurses, nearly 200 additional psychiatrists, and more than 6,000 additional medical staff like lab and x-ray technicians.

And, the quality of the care that patients receive at health centers often exceeds the health outcomes experienced by patients treated in other settings. Between 2008 and 2012, the percent of low birth weight babies seen in health centers decreased from 7.6 percent in 2008 to 7.1 percent in 2012 – lower than the most recent estimated national rate of 8.2 percent.

Care at health centers is both increasingly accessible and it is also financially accessible, regardless of income.  If you are in need of primary health care, you should know that fees at health centers are charged on a sliding scale based on income.  Nearly half of all health centers serve Americans living in rural areas of the country.  No one is turned away due to an inability to pay. For more information about a health center near you go to www.HRSA.gov and use the Find a Health Center tool on the homepage. 

Moreover, if you would like information about the new health insurance options that are available and assistance in signing up, health centers stand at the ready.  Health centers provided enrollment assistance to more than 4.7 million people during the Marketplace open enrollment period that ended just over a month ago, and are doing so now to those who qualify through special enrollment periods.

Moving forward, and directly supported by the Affordable Care Act,  health centers will continue to promote outreach and enrollment,  help new and previously insured individuals make the most of their coverage, given the new expanded services provided through insurance, and do what they do best – provide  comprehensive high quality care in neighborhoods across the nation.

Content last reviewed on June 3, 2014