Federally funded health centers, originally created to serve the poor, are seeing a surge of patients as more Americans struggle financially.
The centers are on track to handle more than 20 million patients this year, up by more than two million from last year and twice the figure of a decade ago, according to surveys by the National Association of Community Health Centers.
“They’re seeing lines out the door,” said the association’s research director, Michelle Proser.
On a recent afternoon at the Loudoun County Community Health Center here, patients came in at a rate of one every two minutes. Operating chief Stephanie Kenyon said the waiting list has jumped to 500 from 20 in a few months. Some of the new patients are college-educated and, until recently, held jobs that put them in the middle class.
Former President George W. Bush doubled financing for the centers, bringing their number to 1,200 nationwide. President Barack Obama included $2 billion for them in his stimulus package, and a House bill would add $38 billion over a decade. That could double again the number of patients treated.
The centers are addressing in a smaller way two issues that also underlie Mr. Obama’s health-care proposals: lack of access to care and high costs. The uninsured often need pay only $20 or so for an appointment with a center doctor. The no-frills centers receive block federal grants for much of their funds and pay medical staff a fixed salary, so they have little incentive to jack up costs with unnecessary care.