Uninsured, poor patients strain community health centers

Community health centers are struggling to attend to uninsured and poor patients, the Louisville Curier Journal reported.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, an average of 15.8 percent of Americans lacked health insurance from 2008 to 2010. The number of uninsured grew 21 percent between June 2008 and June 2009, while total visits rose 14 percent, according to a survey by the National Association of Community Health Centers.

With more than 1,200 community health centers providing care to more than 20 million people, most patients are uninsured or covered by Medicaid, the article noted. The poor population has implications for the health centers' finances.

For example, Maine's Jackman Region Health Center--a rural health center where the nearest hospital is an hour away--operates at up to half a million dollars of deficit each year, the Morning Sentinel reported. The parent corporation pays off some of the deficit each year, and the community raises funds to offset the costs.

Jackman Region Health Center is preparing to become a federally funded health center, as volunteers work on the application process, seeking full Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, the Sentinel noted.

Community health centers could see less federal money for expanding than they originally thought they would under healthcare reform. Congress in April cut funding for health center operations by $600 million for fiscal year 2011, according to the Courier Journal. However, in December, Congress passed a 2012 budget that would fund the health centers at $2.78 billion, enough to extend access to 1.5 million more patients nationally.

For more information:
- read Courier Journal article
- read the Morning Sentinel article