CHC 101

What are community health centers (CHCs)? 

  • Local, non-profit, community-owned health care providers serving low income and medically underserved communities, often in rural areas.
  • CHCs are located in areas where care is needed but scarce, and work to improve access to care for millions of Americans regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Their total cost of care rank among the lowest, and they reduce the need for more expensive hospital-based and specialty care, saving billions of dollars for taxpayers.
  • CHCs provide quality, affordable, comprehensive primary care and preventive services, including dental, mental health, and substance abuse services, as well as affordable pharmaceuticals. CHCs are recognized leaders in treating chronic diseases and reducing health disparities.

Who do community health centers serve?

  • 27 million people across the country, including over 226,000 individuals in Iowa.
  • 93% of health center patients in Iowa have family incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
  • 23% of health center patients in Iowa are uninsured and 46% are covered under Medicaid.

How do community health centers overcome barriers to care?

  • Located in high-need areas identified as having elevated poverty, higher than average infant mortality, and where few physicians practice.
  • Open to all, regardless of income and insurance status, and provide free or reduced cost care based on ability to pay.
  • Services are tailored to fit the special needs and priorities of the community, and provide services in a linguistically and culturally appropriate setting.
  • Offer services that help patients access health care, such as transportation, interpretation, case management, health education, and home visitation.

How do health centers make a difference?

  • Improve access to primary and preventive care. Uninsured people living within close proximity to a health center are less likely to have an unmet medical need, less likely to visit the emergency room or have a hospital stay, and more likely to have had a general medical visit compared to other uninsured.
  • Effective management of chronic illness. Health Centers meet or exceed nationally accepted practice standards for treatment of chronic conditions. In fact, the Institute of Medicine and the Government Accountability Office have recognized health centers as models for screening, diagnosing, and managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, depression, cancer, and HIV. Health centers’ efforts have led to improved health outcomes for their patients, as well as lowered the cost of treating patients with chronic illness.
  • Reduction of health disparities. Because of their success in removing barriers to care, the Institute of Medicine and U.S. General Accounting Office recognized health centers for reducing or even eliminating the health gaps for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as for the poor in the U.S.
  • Cost-effective care. Care received at health centers is ranked among the most cost-effective. Several studies have found that health centers save the Medicaid program around 30% in annual spending for health center Medicaid beneficiaries. Furthermore, health centers generate savings for the entire health care system of up $17.6 billion per year. These savings are the result of less reliance on costly specialty, inpatient, and emergency room care. Furthermore, if avoidable visits to emergency rooms were redirected to Health Centers, over $18 billion in annual health care costs could be saved nationally.
  • High-quality care. Studies have found that the quality of care provided at Health Centers is equal to or greater than the quality of care provided elsewhere. Moreover, 99% of surveyed patients report that they were satisfied with the care they receive at Health Centers.

Information courtesy of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

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