Our nation’s community health care centers need our support

Our nation’s community health care centers need our support
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Imagine being sick but lacking access to a primary care doctor. Consider needing a dentist or mental health practitioner but having no specialists available in your neighborhood. It’s a reality for 90 million Americans living in medically underserved communities across the country.

That’s why community health centers play such a vital role helping more than 27 million Americans access comprehensive, affordable primary care.


What makes these centers such a growing, critical resource?


First, community health centers specialize in treating underserved populations by offering integrated services all “under one roof.” These centers serve more than 330,000 veterans and 1.3 million homeless patients offering medical, dental and mental health services in one convenient location. Health centers report 104 million visits annually offering a combination of services from primary care to addiction support.

This approach has led to better health outcomes. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), community health center patients have fewer low birth weight babies and higher rates of diabetes and blood pressure control compared to the national average.

And patients are satisfied with this approach. According to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund, 73 percent of patients using community health centers as their regular source of care felt their care was high quality.

As a result of these efforts, community health centers save an estimated $24 billion per year by reducing unnecessary hospitalizations or emergency room visits. Health centers have also been shown to reduce the costs of children’s primary care by approximately 35 percent.

These results are even more impressive when you examine our Medicaid system—the public health insurance program for low-income Americans. Today, Medicaid covers more than 74 million people, or roughly 1 in every 5 Americans.

According to NACHC, community health centers care for 1 in 6 Medicaid members, and studies show health center patients with Medicaid have lower utilization of costly hospital and emergency department-related services compared to patients at other providers, saving the Medicaid program approximately $6 billion a year.

As a leading provider of managed care services, WellCare is proud to partner with more than 4,500 community health centers, which provide access to comprehensive primary and preventive care for our more than 4.4 million members across the country.

But even with impressive numbers, endorsement from the industry and bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, community health centers need our help. Earlier this year Congress delayed funding for the Community Health Center Fund — a critical resource for our country’s more than 10,000 health centers.

Our elected representatives must ensure community health centers have consistent funding, which will enable them to strategically plan for the future, allocate appropriate resources and provide the highest-quality care.

It's time to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers. Let’s rally together to keep our community health centers at the forefront of healthcare discussions, so they can remain open and accessible to those who need them most.

Dr. Mark Leenay is the chief medical officer and senior vice president of WellCare Health Plans, Inc. He is board certified in family medicine, geriatrics and hospice and palliative care.