By Kathleen Sebelius
September 19, 2012
On Tuesday I visited First Choice Community Healthcare in Albuquerque to talk about one of the underreported success stories of the last few years — how the Affordable Care Act’s investments in community health centers are helping the people of New Mexico get the health care they need.
We know that people who have doctors, nurses, dentists and mental health professionals nearby are much more likely to get the preventive care and treatment they need to stay healthy. Yet over the years, we’ve seen a growing shortage of health care providers, especially in many Latino communities.
Community health centers help reach these underserved populations. With support from the federal government, community health centers deliver high-quality primary health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. First established in 1965, today there are more than 8,500 community health center sites across the country.
These health centers provide checkups and preventive services like childhood immunizations. They help people get needed medicines or get their teeth fixed. They provide counseling and support finding childcare. They can help patients control their diabetes and quit smoking.
Many of these services save money in the long run because they keep people from making expensive visits to the emergency room. And community health centers do it all on budgets far smaller than those available to bigger hospitals and health systems.
That makes community health centers one of the best investments we can make as a nation. And it’s why the Obama administration has made bringing health centers to more communities across the country one of our top priorities.
Already, through grants from the health care law and other measures, we’ve helped health centers add new sites and services that have allowed them to provide care to an additional 3.1 million people, including nearly 1 million more Latinos.
These investments can also have a powerful economic impact. When a community health center expands its services, it means more jobs, more tax revenue and more stability for the local community. Already, health centers have added 25,000 new full-time health positions around the country as a result of the steps we’ve taken.
At First Choice Community Healthcare, for example, investments from the Affordable Care Act and Recovery Act have allowed them to add 35 to 40 new full-time equivalent medical and support staff. The investments have also supported the creation of a new health care delivery site in Los Lunas, which includes 15 medical exam rooms and 10 rooms where patients can receive dental care. As a result, First Choice Community Healthcare will now be able to serve nearly 10,000 new patients in the Albuquerque area.
And this is just one of the ways the health care law is making a difference for the people of Albuquerque. The health care law will extend coverage to up to 30 million previously uninsured Americans, including up to 9 million Latinos. It will make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting health conditions like asthma and diabetes. And it’s already providing benefits for those who have insurance, like free preventive services and prescription drug discounts for seniors on Medicare.
All Americans, no matter who they are or where they live, have a right to high-quality, affordable health care. Thanks to the health care law, we’re moving in that direction.