Why invest in primary care? It’s a good question to pose as we see the healthcare marketplace changing around us. Yes, more people have access to insurance coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but just as important is having a place to go for care to stay healthy.
That is why the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced grants [press release] totaling more than $295 million to Community Health Centers last week. Thanks to these funds, health centers can provide working families with better access to care by hiring an estimated 4,750 new staff including new health care providers, staying open for longer hours, and expanding the care they provide to include new services such as oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and vision services. These investments will help health centers reach an estimated 1.5 million new patients nationwide, including over 137,000 oral health patients and more than 38,000 mental and substance abuse patients.
In a recent post, the NonProfit Quarterly (NPQ) noted:
With at least 13 million individuals newly insured through the Affordable Care Act, the need for primary care access has gone up dramatically. HHS said last fall that the demand is expected to rise by 14 percent, a figure also compounded by an aging population.
Even before Obamacare, there was a shortage in primary care. A report by the Health and Resources Services Administration early this year found that almost 20 percent of Americans live in areas without enough primary care physicians.
“Every health center I talk to around the country is bursting at the seams with new folks coming in to see them in states where they’ve expanded coverage like in California and New York,” said Dan Hawkins, NACHC’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Research in an interview with Modern HealthCare that was cited by NPQ.
Also, remember that while we know that demand for health centers will continue, the amount of funding in the future to support that expansion is uncertain. That is what we mean by the primary care funding cliff, which we’ve written about on this blog.
NPQ notes, “Without continued support from Congress, Hawkins predicts few health centers could continue their current level of operations. Community health center advocates and those concerned about health care access for vulnerable populations will be watching closely to see if the funding is sustained beyond next year.