The Value of Our Nation’s Health Centers

By Carol Steckel

It’s National Health Center Week, and as I reflect over the past few days, I can still remember standing in awe the first time I visited Franklin Primary Health Center’s Medical Mall in Mobile, Alabama. People of all races and conditions were getting the health care they needed—all in one place.

I also remember the health centers in North Carolina and the work they do to provide essential services to people without access to primary care. The caring, the compassion and the commitment to those they serve rang out loud and clear.

What many people don’t realize is how critically important health centers are to both our health care system and to the millions of underserved Americans across the country.

There are the big numbers: 25 million people are served by health centers, or one out of every 15 Americans. There are more than 1,300 health centers and more than 9,000 service delivery sites in every state and territory. Studies have also shown community health centers generate $24 billion a year in savings to our health care system and impact the quality of care in very positive ways:

  • Michigan – Health centers save the state $144 per Medicaid beneficiary each year;
  • Georgia – The mean annual rate of emergency department (ED) visits for uninsured patients is 25 percent less in counties with a health center compared to those without;
  • California – Four counties saw a 64 percent lower rate of multi-day hospital admissions, an 18 percent lower rate of ED visits and 25 percent fewer inpatient bed days than patients at other providers;
  • Colorado – Health center patients were 30 percent less likely to use hospital-related services compared to Medicaid patients seen by office-based providers;
  • Texas – Health center patients with Medicaid have $384 less in total costs compared to those served by office-based physicians.

Why are Community Health Centers so successful?

  1. They remove barriers for patients seeking low-cost preventive services;
  2. They create unique, culturally sensitive environments that are tailored to their communities;
  3. They focus on health outcomes, meeting or even exceeding the results of other primary care providers;
  4. They care for the medically complex patients with behavioral health and social service needs that must be considered in order to improve health status;
  5. They integrate care to include dental, behavioral health and pharmacy;
  6. They utilize technology with 96 percent of health centers using electronic health records.

Results are clear in health center patient outcome data:

  • 22 percent more screening for diabetes, hypertension, breast and cervical cancer;
  • 13 percent lower mortality rates among patients ages 50 and older;
  • 80 percent exceed a high-performance benchmark for diabetes control;
  • Rates of low birth weight are lower among health center patients – 7.5 percent vs. 8.2 percent – among all U.S. low income populations;
  • 98 percent of health center patients report high satisfaction with their care.

At WellCare, we’re committed to serving our members to help them lead better, healthier lives, and we are proud to partner with community health centers across the country.


Carol H. Steckel, MPH, is senior director, alliance development for WellCare Health Plans.

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