By Kerry Young, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor
May 16, 3014 -- Many community health centers are looking to add staff, particularly bilingual workers, because the expansion of Medicaid through the 2010 health law will boost demand for their services, researchers said.
The law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) is intended to aid poor and struggling Americans , who are the "mainstay" of community health center's base, according to a report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund. An estimated 4 million patients of health centers who once lacked insurance are expected to get covered this year.
"As a result of the expected surge in patient volume, health centers are worried about their ability to ensure access to good care," the authors said.
The clinics and organizations serve more than 22 million people in about 9,000 locations, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers. According to the Commonwealth report, nearly six of 10 centers that participated in a recent survey cited concerns about shortages of primary care doctors. Almost 70 percent of centers in the survey reported hiring staff to help people apply for insurance coverage. And about 17 percent of the centers are expanding remote access care, such as telehealth to meet demand.
Community health centers, long a bipartisan funding priority on Capitol Hill, face a sharp drop off in federal support in fiscal 2016 that could force a number to close, slash staff, or curtail services. If lawmakers do not intervene, a key part of the strategy for meeting growing demand for health care services as coverage expands under the health law will be undermined, advocates for centers say.
The centers charge on a sliding scale that varies with income and insurance status. Centers do not provide hospital care but do offer an array of other primary care services.
"In helping to meet the complex needs of poor and minority patients, federally qualified health centers are a core component of the health care safety net, and they will continue to serve as providers for new Medicaid patients as the remaining uninsured," the authors said.