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Community health centers see significant uptick in patient visits, analysis shows

While this trend was consistent across the vast majority of states, there were larger increases among states that expanded Medicaid.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Hospital finance and operations leaders would be wise to keep an eye on community health centers in their region as they focus more on patient experience and retention while striving to keep revenue streams alive. 

That's because community health centers, which offer clinic-style care to financially struggling and underinsured patients, have seen a notable uptick in the number of patient visits from 2010 to 2016, according to a new analysis from George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Such clinics have seen 33 percent patient growth over that time, and while this trend was consistent across the vast majority of states, there were larger increases among states that expanded Medicaid. Louisiana led the pack, with an 86 percent increase in the number of patients visiting a community health center.

Indiana was close behind, at 83 percent. Only two states, Wyoming and Mississippi, saw a decrease over that time (-15 and -6 percent, respectively). Of the seven states that saw an increase of 200,000 patients or more, five of them are expansion states: New York, Ohio, Indiana, Washington and California. Texas and Florida are the only non-expansion states to post such numbers.

The numbers suggest that the adoption of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion was a significant factor associated with the growth of community health centers, despite the fact that some non-expansion states saw sizeable growth as well. 

The analysis specifically singles out the ACA's health center fund, which was most recently extended by Congress in the Balanced Budget Act of 2018.

In February, Congress earmarked $7 billion for community health centers, along with $6 billion to fight opioid use disorder. The action, which averted a government shutdown, also lifted caps on defense spending, boosted some domestic programs and provided funds for disaster relief and infrastructure.

Of the non-expansion states to post large increases in community health center patients, Oklahoma topped the list with 52 percent growth, followed by Georgia at 47 percent and Kansas at 45 percent. At 6 percent apiece, Tennessee and Maine were the non-expansion states to see the smallest increases.

"These impressive growth figures not only show the importance of health centers to the medically underserved communities they serve but also underscore the essential role played by the Affordable Care Act, both for its Medicaid expansion and for its health center fund," Feygele Jacobs, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, said in the report. 

Twitter: @JELagasse
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