Help for the Uninsured
By: Jane Zhang
Federal stimulus funding is helping community health centers nationwide deal with an influx of newly uninsured patients.
The centers will be able to serve 2.8 million new patients this year, thanks to funding distributed in March from the stimulus package that Congress passed earlier this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
That money includes $155 million for the construction of 126 new health centers and $338 million to help 1,100 centers expand services or keep longer hours, says Mary Wakefield, head of HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration.
In addition, the Obama administration said last month that it would give an additional $850 million to more than 1,500 health centers for building construction or renovations.
More grants will come out later this year as HHS continues to spend the total $2 billion for health centers authorized in the stimulus package. “It’s meeting a resource need in a very direct way,” says Dr. Wakefield.
Clinics Attract More Patients
As the recession deepened and more people lost jobs, these clinics have seen a rapid rise in patient visits. Clinics across the country have seen 7.2 million uninsured patients since January, compared with 6.8 million for all of 2008, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.
While the federal government is plunking down money for the centers, state and local governments, which set up the centers, are cutting budgets for Medicaid, the state/federal insurance program for the poor. Medicaid makes up 27% of the centers’ revenues.
“It’s sort of all happening at the same time,” says Dave Taylor, chief operating officer at the National Association of Community Health Centers. The stimulus funding, he says, “couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The health center in Ingham County, Mich., is getting hundreds of additional phone calls for services, says Jaeson Fournier, the county’s deputy health officer. The clinic has received $1.3 million from HHS for this year and 2010, which is allowing it to expand services to 5,000 new patients.
Much of the money has been used to hire 20 new employees, including a family physician, a nurse practitioner, a pediatrician and two dentists, Mr. Fournier says. The center now has a staff of 170.