The NACHC 2017 Policy and Issues Forum is about to start and we could not be more excited. More than 2,500 Community Health Center leaders from around the country have signed up to attend this national gathering, including a record number of consumers [see media advisory]. The policy conference began today with a panel discussion on Capitol Hill on the topic “Primary Care: High-Value Care for Underserved Communities.” The discussion is part of a series hosted by NACHC, the National Coalition on Health Care, AAFP, the American College of Physicians, and the American Osteopathic Association, groups that are part of the larger National Coalition on Health Care. In their remarks the panel of experts made the case that primary care must become a national health policy priority, underscoring that the U.S. spends only 4 to 8 percent on primary care, compared to an average of 12 percent among other industrialized countries, each of which spends substantially less on health care overall than the U.S.
Two Community Health Center leaders presented on the panel, Kemi Alli, MD, a pediatrician with Henry J. Austin Community Health Center in Trenton, NJ. Also, Brenda Johnson, with La Clinica, in Medford, OR.
Dr. Alli described the range of comprehensive primary care services that her health center provides for patients (adult medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, dental, nutrition, social services and heatlth education) explaining, “A whole healthy human being is a happy human being. We try to provide as many services as we possibly can because our patients are vulnerable and disenfranchised.”
She also described the value of integrating primary care and behavioral health care “at the same point of touch in a trauma informed system.”
Brenda Johnson of La Clinica shared how the state’s efforts to expand Medicaid and coordinate care has saved the federal and state government $1.4 billion in Medicaid costs since 2012. But even more compelling was her description to a captive audience about how her health center “knits together” a host of service providers that connect patients not just to good care, but better housing, a living wage employment and higher education, as well as coordinated care to address behavioral health and substance abuse.
“We are all really lucky we can save peoples’ lives,” she said. “We can talk about data, services but these are our neighbors.”
The services La Clinica offers such as nutrition/cooking classes, mindfulness classes, and personal development seminars, have changed the lives of the patients, and some of their success stories were featured in the discussion.
Lastly, we should also note that today’s panel discussion coincided with the release of a new NACHC report,“Strengthening the Safety Net: Community Health Centers on the Front Lines of American Health Care” makes the case that while the debate over insurance coverage is important, the question of ensuring access to high-quality, affordable care is equally important. Health centers have succeeded for decades in providing that care in some of America’s hardest to reach communities where there are few or no options for care.
A few of the report’s highlights:
- Community Health Centers serve nearly 5 million more patients today than in 2010.
- Behavioral health services have grown by 56 percent since 2010. Over 80 percent of health centers now offer behavioral services, such as mental health counseling and addiction-related services.
- More than 76 percent of health centers offer oral health, and 40 percent offer pharmacy services.
- More than half of health centers (55 percent) are located in rural areas, serving 13 million patients and in many cases are the only provider for hundreds of miles.
- Health centers serve more than one in six Medicaid beneficiaries for less than two percent of the national Medicaid budget.
- In terms of total costs of care, health centers save 24 percent per Medicaid patient and up to 30 percent per Medicare patient, when compared to patients cared for in other settings
You can read the press release by visiting this link.