The passage of comprehensive health care reform was truly historic, setting the stage to achieve the dual goals set out at the beginning of the health care debate— expand coverage for nearly all Americans and rein in out of control health care costs. Community health centers are well placed to help the nation achieve both these goals. By design, these centers are located in medically underserved areas in lower income rural and inner-city communities and are prepared to ramp up quickly to provide health services to our neediest Americans. These centers boast strong primary care capabilities that decrease health care costs overall.
What is less touted is the economic activity that community health centers generate in their communities. Case in point: the $1.8 billion investment that the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act made in these centers in 2009 yielded $3.2 billion in total economic activity in those areas of the nation that needed it most. New jobs and in some cases brand new businesses that did not previously exist were created.
Why are community health centers so capable of putting these funds to work quickly and effectively? Because these neighborhood-based and patient-directed centers are so intertwined with their neighborhoods they can often identity the health needs earlier and design effective community-based solutions before others even understand the underlying dynamics. These critical providers developed these skills since their launch in the 1960s. Today, these health centers serve over 20 million patients at over 8,000 sites, including 941,000 migrant/seasonal farm worker patients and 1 million homeless patients.
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