NACHC, Citing Cost Benefits, Urges Alliances with Hospitals

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, March 23, 2011

If healthcare has a Holy Grail, it's this: Finding solutions that both lower costs and improve quality. According to a new policy brief released Tuesday, community health centers are poised to take one step closer to achieving that goal.

The National Association of Community Health Centers' policy brief, "Community Health Centers: The Local Prescription for Better Quality and Lower Costs," was unveiled at a Capitol Hill briefing. The brief not only calls for establishing more community health centers throughout the country, it also calls for stronger alliances between community health centers and hospitals. Here's the convincer: The brief cites dozens of studies showing the cost savings—$24 billion per year—and improved care that such centers can provide.

Community health centers provide primary care to patients who might not otherwise have access to it, especially the uninsured. They not only help these patients stay healthy, but also help them avoid trips to the hospital, Michelle Proser, director of research at the NACHC, said in an interview.

"Health centers are primary care providers, and many patients that would not have access to primary care may end up in the emergency room for services that could have been provided in a primary care setting," she said.

This is true not only in urban areas, but also in rural ones, where Proser says half of community health centers are located. For example, the policy brief cites a 2009 study published in the Journal of Rural Health that found 33% higher rates of uninsured all-cause ED visits in rural Georgia counties without a community health center, than in counties with community health centers.

But it's not just about preventing trips to the ED, Proser says.

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