Facilities are faring better in states that expanded Medicaid, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report.
Community health centers (CHC) operating in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA are 28% more likely to report improvements to their financial stability, according to a Commonwealth Fund report released Thursday morning.
CHCs in Medicaid expansion states reported were more likely to report improvements in their ability to provide affordable care to patients, 76%, than their counterparts in non-expansion states, 52%.
More than 60% of CHCs in expansion states reported improved ability to fund service or site expansions and upgrades for facilities, while only 46% of CHCs in non-expansion states said the same.
These facilities reported higher levels of unfilled job openings for mental health professional and social workers, while also implying a greater openness to operating under a value-based payment model.
The success and viability of CHCs are essential for larger health systems, according to Melinda K. Abrams, M.S., vice president and director of the Commonwealth Fund's Health Care Delivery System Reform program, adding that CHCs act as a strong foundation for providing primary care to medically vulnerable populations in rural communities.
Abrams said that by making sure patients are insured and receiving care up front, rather than delaying treatment and exacerbating their condition, they are less likely to end up in a hospital emergency room and contribute to a rise in uncompensated care for hospitals.
She also told HealthLeaders that populations with higher enrollment rates make it easier for CHCs to innovate, invest in technology, hire new staff, train existing the workforce, and adopt new models of care.
"[Medicaid expansion] makes it a lot easier to provide high-quality comprehensive care when [a CHC's] patients have health insurance," Abrams said. "In this particular instance, it's a lot easier to innovate and have financial stability when you have more paying patients, which means that it is easier if you are [a CHC] in a state that has expanded Medicaid."
The Commonwealth Fund report provides a welcome note of positivity for CHCs, which serve vulnerable populations primarily composed by the uninsured, but have faced funding challenges in the past.
During the budget battles that produced multiple government shutdowns throughout the early portion of 2018, advocates wondered anxiously whether Congress would provide longterm funding to the nearly 1,400 CHCs operating at nearly 12,000 service delivery sites across the country.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, CHCs provide care to more than 27 million patients annually.
The Community Health Center Fund (CHCF), created in 2010 as a result of the ACA, is the largest source of comprehensive primary care for medically underserved communities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
However, Abrams said that Medicaid expansion has also been a beneficial tool for CHCs, as they have begun to see more insured patients while also benefiting from Medicaid reimbursements, even though they are low compared to other reimbursement rates.
CHCs in states that expanded Medicaid have been able to grow the services that are offered while assisting in the ongoing fight against the opioid epidemic, according to the Commonwealth Fund report.
Abrams said that one downside to the growing success of CHCs have been the unfilled positions, mostly for mental health providers, that are falling behind rising demand levels, though she added that this finding is not surprising.
"I think it's in part because the supply of the workforce is lagging a little bit behind the demand," Abrams said. "There's no reason to think that over time that this gap wouldn't be closed. But we did find that as a challenge, that [CHCs] have a lot of positions open [yet] they're hiring. A number of these CHCs are in economically depressed areas, so the good news is that there are some jobs available."
CHCs are much more likely to participate in value-based payment models as a result of Medicaid expansion, with Abrams explaining that changes in payments and delivery models are common during insurance expansions.
She sees the continued progress made on the value-based front by CHCs as a way to "promote better healthcare and save money" over time.
Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
A year after facing a federal funding cliff, CHCs in expansion states are thriving.
CHCs provide care to 27 million patients each year, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The financial stability of CHCs, which serve medically vulnerable communities, is a benefit for health systems.