Cuts to Community Health Centers Hit Rural Americans Hardest

John Commins, March 21, 2012

The federal government's decision to withhold about $600 million in funding for primary care community health centers will have a disproportionately hard effect on rural Americans.

More than 90% of the 20 million people who are served by health centers have incomes that are below twice the federal poverty level. And about 48% the of the nation's 8,100 federally funded community health centers serve rural communities. People in rural areas tend to be older, poorer, and sicker than their urban counterparts. They also tend to have fewer healthcare options and more difficulty accessing healthcare than people in urban areas.

About one-in-seven rural Americans gets their care from a community health center.

With that in mind, it's troubling to see the ambitious plan to double services and access from 20 million people to 40 million through community health centers waylaid by the budget battle, even though the need is growing.

Last year, for example, communities across the nation submitted 1,900 health center grant applications for new sites or services to the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the program, but only 67 applications were approved because of funding shortages.

This seems remarkably short-sighted when almost everyone, regardless of their political leanings, understands that access to primary care, preventive medicine, and disease management are cost-effective alternatives to acute episodes that require hospitalization.  

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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