By: Beau Boughamer
In a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, former HHS official Thomas E. Lorentzen described health centers as one element of the health care system around which consensus could be rallied in an increasingly polarized political environment.
In California, about 800 such sites provide primary medical care, including dental where possible. They serve both underinsured and uninsured. They do not turn away people. Just as public libraries were designed to increase access to information and public schools were designed to increase access to education, so have community health centers been designed to increase access to primary medical care. They strengthen communities and enhance community health objectives.
Nationally, there are about 7,000 sites that serve about 20 million people. The “Health Centers Initiative” of 2002 greatly expanded their numbers and capabilities. A 50 percent increase in utilization occurred between 2001 and 2006. They collaborate with schools, hospitals and other public and private entities to promote health literacy. The community-based model has proven its value, provides clarity of purpose, is consistent with traditional methods of improving access in the United States, is cost effective, and possesses an existing consensus of support in Congress in both parties.