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HHS to Offer $250 Million in Grants for Community Health Centers

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

August 6, 2010 -- The government will make information available next week on how to apply for $250 million in grants that will boost the expansion of 350 community health centers, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday.

The centers, which deliver primary and preventive care regardless of patients' ability to pay, received funding through the economic stimulus law as well as the new health care law. In a conference call with center administrators, Sebelius said the economic stimulus funneled $2 billion toward the centers during the past 18 months and that the health care law will add $11 billion over five years.

"That work has already begun and we're working hard to get the resources out in the community," she said. "The funds will allow current centers to expand to new sites and offer new access to people of their community." The $250 million will be allocated in fiscal 2011.

One sign of the importance placed on the role of community health centers in expanding care is that insurance companies that take part in the exchanges created under the law must include essential community providers like the centers in their networks, Sebelius noted.
In addition, funding for the National Health Service Corps puts a priority on additional providers in areas without a lot of medical professionals, she said. Sebelius earlier this week announced $159 million in grants to beef up the health care workforce.

The community health centers cared for 19 million patients in 2009, according to HHS, and employed more than 123,000 people, most in low-income communities. Of the patients, 38 percent were uninsured and 37 percent were Medicaid recipients; the remainder had private insurance or were Medicare beneficiaries.

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