ACA will drive more traffic to community health centers

Facilities don't have enough doctors, nurses to meet anticipated demand

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will likely increase demand for federally qualified health center (FQHC) services, especially in low-income communities, a new survey reveals. This demand could create the need for more primary care physicians (PCPs), especially those who are bilingual, as well as more behavioral health and additional clinical staff.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation aimed at improving the healthcare delivery system, conducted a survey of health center leaders in 2013 about current and anticipated workforce changes. It found 56 percent of the 679 surveyed FQHCs reported PCP shortages and 60 percent didn't have enough bilingual physicians.

To accommodate the anticipated influx of new patients, FQHCs said they pursue integration of behavioral health ventures, and 31 percent are in the process of hiring more clinical staff.

Additionally, about one-third of FQHCs reported nurse practitioner and physician assistant shortages, the survey found.

Recent changes show that expanding access to insurance increased the demand for services on community health centers, according to the survey results, citing coverage expansion in Massachusetts before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

"[I]n Massachusetts, health centers observed an increased demand for services among low- and middle-income residents following implementation of the state's health reform program," the survey results read. "While the overall number of uninsured declined, Massachusetts health centers continued to care for a disproportionate share of the remaining uninsured compared with other primary care practices."

FQHCs will need help recruiting these additional personnel, including mental health professions, as well as with expanding access to care through telehealth, according to the survey overview.

To learn more:
- here's the survey results (.pdf)
- read the survey overview

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