As the nation celebrates "National Health Center Week 2005" (August 7-13) and the 40th anniversary of health centers, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) has released a new report that reveals the challenges health centers face in providing affordable health care to medically underserved communities. The report, entitled, �The Safety Net on the Edge,� chronicles the financial realities health centers face due to Medicaid cutbacks, the rising number of uninsured Americans, and the increasing cost of delivering care. Consequently, patient demand for services is rising at an unprecedented rate and cost at a time when Medicaid cuts are being debated in Congress.
�Health centers are the medical home to more than 15 million patients in rural and urban areas around the country, but as this report finds, that �safety net� is in danger,� said Dan Hawkins, Vice President for Federal State and Public Affairs at NACHC. �Over the last six years, we�ve seen the total number of health centers patients treated increase by more than 45 percent, with large spikes in the low income and uninsured patient categories. At the same time, many states are restructuring Medicaid in an effort to cut costs, resulting ultimately in more uninsured Americans. Our nation�s health centers continue to provide the best care for this rising section of the population, but the long term sustainability of this quality care is threatened if support continues to wane.�
One example of Medicaid restructuring that has impacted coverage is Tennessee�s recent overhauls. The changes have resulted in 2,000 people a day losing their TennCare coverage. On August 1st, 200,000 TennCare beneficiaries lost all prescription coverage, and the coverage of another 97,000 TennCare enrollees who are the sickest may hang in balance. �I know first hand the challenges associated with these cuts on our health center in providing quality patient care,� said Mary Bufwack, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of United Neighborhood Health Services of Nashville, Tennessee. �These cutbacks simply cannot be measured by dollar figures and only shift the financial burden onto our health center. The changes resulted in higher numbers of uninsured patients seen at United Neighborhood Health Services.� Bufwack also notes that on the first day that 200,000 TennCare beneficiaries lost their coverage, 50 newly uninsured people signed up for an appointment at United Neighborhood Health Services.
At many health centers, patients have access to dental, mental health, substance abuse, vision, hearing and pharmacy services. In addition to the financial challenges associated with Medicaid cutbacks, health centers have also experienced a reduction in the federal funding available per patient served-- despite increased funding for the program. Also, 17 states slashed direct funding for health centers during fiscal year 2004, and seven states did so during the current fiscal year. The losses amount to $40 million last year and $14 million in 2005. Nevertheless, health centers still provide quality health care to anyone, regardless of their insurances status or ability to pay.
�My family could very easily be among the many Americans you hear about who go without health care because they have run out of affordable options. But we are not-- and the reason is I have a health center to go to at North Hudson Community Action Corporation,� said Adela Santigao, a patient at NHCAC, a health center network in New Jersey. �At North Hudson, my two sons get first class treatment for their allergies and asthma. I get the best OB/GYN services, regular check ups and prescriptions when I need them-- and I have Medicaid to help me with paying my bills."
�This year�s National Health Center Week, along with the 40th Anniversary of health centers, provide a tremendous opportunity to educate the public as to the important role health centers play in their communities and the financial dangers they are facing due to cutbacks and restructuring,� said Hawkins. �This report provides a glimpse into the future financial dangers that community health centers could face, and the continued need to fully fund health centers.�
For more information about health centers, the new report and National Health Center Week 2005, visit www.nachc.com