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An investment in health at the community level

By Kathleen Sebelius

Detroit Free Press
June 20, 2012

Today, I'm scheduled to visit the Covenant Community Care health center here in Detroit to announce nearly $129 million in additional grants that will bring primary care to underserved communities across America. These grants, made possible by the 2010 health reform law, are part of one of the underreported success stories of the last few years -- a historic investment that is bolstering health services for our most vulnerable populations around the country.

We know that people who have doctors, nurses, dentists and mental health professionals nearby are much more likely to get the care they need. Yet we've seen a growing shortage of health care providers in many communities, especially in inner-city neighborhoods. In northeast Detroit, for example, Covenant estimates that there is just one primary care physician for every 11,000 people.

One of the best ways for reaching these underserved populations is community health centers. Funded by the federal government, community health centers deliver comprehensive, high-quality primary health care to patients, regardless of ability to pay.

Many of the services offered by community health centers actually save money in the long run because they keep people from making expensive visits to emergency rooms. And community health centers do it all on budgets far smaller than those available to bigger facilities.

Today's grants, which were made available by the health care law, will make it possible for an additional 1.25 million patients to get care.

For example, Covenant Community Care will use its grant to develop a new site, Covenant Moross Health Center, and expand primary health care services to northeast Detroit, where more than half of the 77,000 residents live at or below 200% of poverty. They'll also start up a mobile medical van that will help them reach patients who might not receive care otherwise, especially among the homeless population. Altogether, these improvements will allow them to provide medical and dental care to about 8,000 new patients.

This investment can also have a powerful economic impact. When a community health center expands its services, it creates new positions for outreach workers, health educators and health care providers. That means more jobs, more tax revenue and more stability for the local community.

It also means better health.

This administration believes that no matter who you are or where you live, you have a right to quality, affordable health care. Thanks to the health care law and announcements like the one we're making today, we're moving in that direction.

Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.