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Community health centers are a good investment

Seeking to ward off more funding cuts in FY 2012, the National Association of Community Health Centers released a report Monday detailing why community health centers are a good deal.

NACHC’s “Access Endangered: Profiles of the Medically Disenfranchised,” couples inspirational stories of people struggling to get healthcare services with statistics demonstrating the economic and health benefits community health centers offer.

The report notes that community health centers:
• generate nearly 190,000 jobs and $20 billion in annual economic activity;
• create $24 billion in annual savings, including $6 billion in savings to federal and state Medicaid programs;
• reduce avoidable hospitalizations and emergency room use;
• improve health outcomes for vulnerable populations; and
• operate in more than 8,000 locations and serve more than 20 million patients

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Congress cut $600 million from the Community Health Centers program in April when it finally passed the budget for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. That $600 million cut, said Dan Hawkins, senior vice president for public policy and research at NACHC, means that 5 million additional patients cannot be served. “For every $1 million in federal funding cuts,” he said during a press conference about the report, “health centers lose the capacity to serve 8,300 patients.”

The NACHC is hopeful that the report will spur decision makers in both the public and private sectors to use common sense in making budgeting decisions.

“We would hope that (individuals) and maybe some private insurers, would say, ‘You know, that (funding community health center programs) this is a good investment,’” said Hawkins. “This is not just throwing good money after bad. This is putting good money on the line to produce savings to help lower costs. . . . Here’s a program that produces a return in better health and lower costs all together.”

Funding for community health centers has traditionally received bipartisan support Hawkins noted, but he understands that members of Congress are in pinch trying to rein in the federal budget. “I think part of our message is be careful what you cut back because in cutting back on programs that are effective and efficient and successful, like health centers, you’re actually going to cost the system and tax payers more money in the long run,” he said.