BETHESDA, Md. — Even as millions of Americans gain access to insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, there are an estimated 62 million people who remain without access to a primary heath care physician, according to a report by the National Association of Community Health Centers.
Why? A shortage of such physicians.
According to the report, entitled “Access Is the Answer,” 43% of U.S. residents are low-income and 28% live in rural areas, and 38% are racial/ethnic minorities. The vast majority of these medically disenfranchised Americans actually have insurance coverage (22% rely on Medicaid and 58% have other insurance).
The report comes as mandatory funding to expand the reach of care through community health centers nears expiration. After that, health centers may face a 70% reduction in funding, in addition to potentially more cuts in the discretionary funds that Congress determines every year, the NACHC stated. Such a reduction in funding would force health centers to close sites, lay off staff and reduce services at a time when demand for care is already climbing. Health center advocates, who are meeting in Washington this week for a national conference, are calling on the President and bipartisan members of Congress to fix the so called “primary care cliff” and continue mandatory health center funding for another five years, enabling health centers to grow to reach 35 million patients by 2020.
“It is important to note that insurance coverage is only one piece of the equation when it comes to access to health care,” stated Dan Hawkins, SVP for policy and research at NACHC. “Even as Americans in every state gain coverage, this report makes clear that too many remain without access to vital primary care services. Access is the answer to what ails our health care system, and health centers stand ready to provide that access in communities across the nation.”
Federal support of health centers leads to greater cost savings across the health care delivery system, and researchers have also found lower utilization of hospital emergency rooms in areas served by a health center.
Health centers save $1,263 per patient per year because patients have access to timely and appropriate care for their health care needs. Given the expected upsurge in demand for care, and the cost-savings of up to $24 billion a year that health centers generate, the report argues that federal investment in health centers, as well as adequate reimbursement for services by third-party payers, must continue for health reform to succeed.