Obamacare Boosted Community Health Centers' Reach. Now What?
The law, which extended health insurance to more than 20 million people, also provided new streams of revenue for community health centers.
This article first appeared January 9, 2017 on Kaiser Health News.
For the patients and the employees of Mary's Center, a community health center that serves Washington, D.C., and its Maryland suburbs, the 2010 health law had a big impact on business. The facility has always promised care to anyone who walks through its doors. But since Obamacare's implementation, the patient population and the quality of care they receive has changed.
"The first set of patients we saw — it was like, 'Wow, I can see a doctor for the first time. I can afford to go to the doctor,'" recalled Maria Gomez, the center's president. "There were patients that knew they had tumors, or knew they hadn't had a pap smear in a long, long time."
But it wasn't just access to care, Gomez added. The law, which extended health insurance to more than 20 million people, also provided new streams of revenue. Since Mary's Center was handling fewer uninsured patients, that financial security let it hire more specialists and operate more health education programs.
Similar stories played out at many of the nation's more than 1,400 federally-backed community health centers, according to two studies published today in Health Affairs. The research offers evidence that in states that embraced the health law, community health centers — which play a key role in providing health care to low-income people, often in medically underserved areas — further extended their reach. It also quantified the types of clinic visits and health services provided that resulted from the expansion.