Treating people for free or for very little money has been the role of community health centers across the U.S. for decades. In 2015, 1 in 12 Americans sought care at one of these clinics; nearly 6 in 10 were women, and hundreds of thousands were veterans.
The community clinics — now roughly 1,300-strong — have also expanded in recent years to serve people who gained insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In 2015, community health centers served 24.3 million people — up from 19.5 million in 2010. Most of the centers are nonprofits with deep roots in their communities and meet the criteria to be a federally qualified health center. That means they can qualify for federal grants and a higher payment rate from Medicaid and Medicare.
The ACA was a game changer for these clinics. It has enabled them to get reimbursement for much more of the care they provided, because more of their patients now had private insurance or were on Medicaid. Revenue at many clinics went up overall, and many of the health centers used federal grants to expand their physical facilities and add services, such as dentistry, urgent care or mental health care.
With repeal of the ACA looming, clinic directors tell Shots they stay up at night wondering what's next. We spoke with four, who all say their clinics are in a holding pattern as Congress debates the health law's future. read more >>