Leighton Ku, Jessica Sharac, Rebecca Morris, Feygele Jacobs, Peter Shin, Erin Brantley, Sara Rosenbaum
Community health centers are the backbone of safety net primary and preventive health care services for underserved communities. In 2020, 1,375 health centers served almost 29 million patients. The health center program rests on a financial base consisting of core grant funding under Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act, as well as insurance payments from Medicaid and Medicare. Over 90 percent of health center patients are low income, so health centers rely primarily on the blend of federal grant funding, Medicaid and Medicare.
This analysis reviews the body of evidence that has developed over decades about the health and economic value contributed by community health centers:
• Targeting populations who would otherwise be underserved for primary care. Community health centers focus on populations who are traditionally underserved, such as people with low incomes, racial and ethnic minorities, rural and inner-city populations, immigrants, and people experiencing homelessness. Studies document health centers’ success in reaching these populations. A recent example is the role played by community health centers during the COVID-19 pandemic, where they have been a central source of medical care, testing, vaccinations, and care to address behavioral and substance use needs for patients in crisis.
• Quality of care and cost savings. The evidence shows that health centers are an effective source of primary and preventive care to high need patients, which can avert subsequent health problems and lower the demand for more expensive emergency and inpatient hospital services. Furthermore, numerous studies, spanning decades, demonstrate that health centers reduce overall costs of medical care, which can help stem health care cost growth.
• Economic and employment effects. Health centers also help their communities by increasing employment opportunities both inside and outside the health care sector and improving local economic conditions.
The issue brief is available here.