Leaders at the local, state and national level will join communities this week in celebration of National Health Center Week 2017. Their messages and visits to health centers will demonstrate that not only is it possible to move beyond the partisan divide over health care, but to support and agree on a program vital to our communities and the nation’s public health.
Community Health Centers like Eastern Iowa Health Center are part of a national network that is the family doctor to more than 25 million Americans.
The program started more than 50 years ago as a small but bold demonstration project to provide health care in medically underserved areas. Over the course of their existence, health centers have saved countless lives, reduced and prevented chronic disease in the most challenged of patients and provided patients with affordable options for care than a costly hospital emergency room. Health centers have proved to be innovators in treating chronic disease and responding to national health crises, such as the opioid epidemic that kills 78 people in the U.S. every day.
There is little doubt that health centers have contributed significantly to cost savings for the American taxpayer.
In fact, health centers save, on average, $2,371 (or 24 percent) in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers, according to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Yet, it is not sufficient to describe health centers as just another health care program. We are more than that. We are problem-solvers that look beyond medical charts not only to prevent illness but also address the factors that cause poor health, such as homelessness, lack of nutrition, stress or unemployment.
Through decades and through bipartisan administrations, Congress has consistently seen the value in growing the federal investment in the health center system of care. Public investment is critical now more than ever.
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Right now a crisis looms with the scheduled expiration of a fund at the end of September that will result in a significant cut to the budget of every health center. Congress must act swiftly and extend funding and fix this funding cliff. Why? Because at time when efforts to reform the health care system are moving forward, this is no time to turn our backs on people who depend on health centers for affordable care.
Health centers bring a unique and important perspective to the national conversation on health care. We are proud that we can work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to strengthen and improve the availability of quality primary care and preventive services to everyone who needs it. Good health begins with primary care. Access to Community Health Centers is a prescription for the good health of our nation.
• Joe Lock is president & CEO of Eastern Iowa Health Center