Increased federal funding for Community Health Centers boosts access to care among the uninsured, and creates more options for low-income adults to get primary care and dental care. This is according to a new study published in Health Services Research.
The study notes that in general access to care in the U.S. has declined over the past decade because of the recession and high employment. But the bright spot is that “increased federal funding offset some of the access decline,” according to the study’s authors, Stacey McMorrow and Stephen Zuckerman, Ph.D. of the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center. Also, among the uninsured, greater health center funding was associated with low-income adults being more likely to have a “usual source of care,” such as a primary care physician, and with having at least one clinic visit in the past year. People with Medicaid who lived in places with greater health center funding were more likely to have a usual source of care and less likely to delay care, or rely on the hospital emergency rooms.
The study said almost 60 percent of health center users had public or private insurance, but that share will grow under the ACA. Federal funding represents about 20 percent of an average health center’s income.
Peter Cunningham from the Center for Studying Health System Change notes that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that in 10 years, 30 million people will still lack insurance, despite the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This group will include people who are ineligible due to immigration status as well as people who face a penalty for not buying coverage. And while the ACA has expanded Medicaid in some states, many doctors still reject Medicaid recipients prompting these patients to turn to health centers, especially for critical services like dental care (about 78 percent of health centers provide these services). Neither Medicaid nor the policies mandated by the ACA necessarily provide coverage for dental.
“Some people believe that with the ACA, we no longer need safety net providers such as health centers and public hospitals,” said Cunningham. “That is not the case. We still need them.”
The study’s findings were based on data for more than 57,000 low-income adults (ages 19 to 64) from the 2001-2008 National Health Interview Surveys.