Over 1,200 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) deliver vital healthcare to more than 22 million at-risk patients each year. FQHCs are community-based and patient-directed health centers that offer comprehensive, high-quality primary care services, including mental health, dental, and substance abuse services, to every patient regardless of his or her ability to pay. FQHCs receive compensation under Medicare and Medicaid, and offer a sliding fee scale for patients. To qualify as an FQHC, the health center must be located in a Medically Underserved Area, Health Professional Shortage Area, or in an area with high-risk target populations. The Board of Directors must be from the community, and a majority must be patients representative of the population served. Patients of health centers are typically low-income, minority, and/or uninsured individuals who may have difficulty accessing healthcare at private practices for various reasons.
The scarcity of healthcare providers due to the physician shortage is compounded by the economic and societal trends that result in increased challenges for vulnerable populations to obtain healthcare services. The mission of health centers is to provide the necessary access to quality primary healthcare for vulnerable populations. Many of these individuals feel as if they have no recourse to gain access to the healthcare system because they are uninsured or simply cannot afford the care they need.
“Due to extenuating circumstances my family and [I] had fallen on hard times. We had no insurance and very little resources. At that time I also had an immune disease escalate. Our Health Center referred me to an allergist which led to an immunologist which got me a much needed diagnosis…At a Health Center all patients are equal and cared for with utmost compassion because uninsured or underinsured will not be turned away. My Health Center has been a huge help in my life; it has literally saved my life,” states Elizabeth W., a patient of a community health center in Estes Park, Colorado.
Ninety-nine percent of health center patients agree with Elizabeth that they receive high-quality and cost-effective care. Ann B., an OB Nurse in a health center in Charlton, Massachusetts, highlights the critical preventive care health centers provide to their communities:
“I have been working at Family Health Center in Worcester for [two] years. I’m the Ob Nurse Manager and help coordinate care for many pregnant women. Most of our patients have very many issues: domestic violence, poverty, housing issues, too little food, mental health issues, etc…We follow our patients closely and educate them about: parenting, contraception, breast feeding, child birth education, etc… Without our Health Center, these patients wouldn’t have preventive health services; they would need acute services. This would cost much more in emergency services. Everyone deserves to have a healthcare provider!”
FQHCs are a “critical component of the health care safety net.” Their costs of care rank among the lowest, and they reduce the need for more expensive hospital-based and specialty care, producing over $24 billion in health system savings, and $6.7 billion in Medicaid savings. Furthermore, uninsured individuals with access to a community health center are “less likely to have an unmet medical need, less likely to visit the emergency room or have a hospital stay, and more likely to have had a general medical visit compared to other uninsured,” thus reducing health disparities overall.
Are you looking for a health center near you? You can search by address, state, county and ZIP code at Find a Health Center.