Community health clinics fill care gaps in non-expansion states

As financial hardships continue for hospitals in states that didn't expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the role of community health centers is evolving to fill the gap and care for uninsured patients, according to WTFV.

For example, the Community Health Centers of the New River Valley's offices in Giles and Montgomery counties in Virginia became a federally qualified health center (FQHC) more than a year ago. Previously, its entire patient base was uninsured, but since the transition to a FQHC, 1 in 4 patients are privately insured, Executive Director Michelle Brauns told WTFV. The center now treats children, adults, the uninsured, homeless and the insured, she said.

The providers' funding sources have also changed as a result of the transition. The center used to rely on volunteers and donors for funding, but now the federal government, which has also invested $101 million in new centers, covers a third of the budget. Meanwhile, the influx of insured patients helps to offset the cost of charity care. 

The new designation also enables community health centers to integrate mental healthcare, which has helped to reduce the stigma often associated with mental illness. Community health centers have filled other gaps in non-expansion states, such as in Tennessee, where, in addition to integrating primary care and mental health services, clinics that qualify as patient-centered medical homes treat patients from varied economic backgrounds.

"Over the years, community health centers have been known as the 'poor people's clinic,' and I don't think that's the case anymore," Geogy Thomas, M.D., the medical director of Indian Mountain Clinic in Jellico, told the Knoxville Sentinel, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

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