Community Health Centers and the Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare or the ACA) of 2010 garnered international attention when it famously mandated that small business owners with 50 or more full-time employees would be required to provide health insurance coverage for their full-time staff. Though the long-term effects of the law remain to be seen, the Affordable Care Act did establish the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), which allows small business owners to directly compare different public health insurance coverage plans. These are large-scale effects, however. How does the Affordable Care Act change how community health centers operate, if at all? What will the ACA mean for municipalities where CHC(community health center) provide the bulk of healthcare services rendered?

Since much of the Affordable Care Act is concerned with expanding access to healthcare services, community health centers have seen a large increase in the number of patients enrolled since the law was enacted. Total patients served annually have increased from 17 million in 2009 to over 20 million in 2012, and community health centers have added over 35,000 new staff positions in the same period (including over 7,500 physicians).

The ACA has also provided significant funding for centers (CHC) (as of 2013) over the next five years, designating more than $11 billion for the maintenance and renovation of existing health centers. A portion of this amount will be used to create new in medically underserved areas (MUAs). As one might expect, medically underserved areas are localities in which the physician-to-population ration is far below the national average. Residents may not have access to even very basic healthcare services, hospital procedures, or professional medical consultation, so community health centers represent their best chance at receiving the care they need.

Physicians and public health advocates alike continue to promote the development of CHC across the country, as they represent an affordable solution to the lack of hospital care for millions of residents. CHC’s are also particularly adept at addressing several different health conditions, given that they often house professional medical staff with diverse medical backgrounds. The Affordable Care Act will allow these vital community programs to expand and further evaluate local demographics and their medical needs. Should more specialized services be required, the community health center provides a gateway for policymakers to assess how future federal funding should best be spent in the area.