Health reform may mean 40 million health center patients in 5 years

The new law provides $11 billion to help community health centers care for an expanded Medicaid population.

By Doug Trapp — Posted April 13, 2010

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Community health centers, which over the last decade already have doubled the number of patients they see, predict that the total will double again to reach 40 million by 2015.

The facilities are receiving $11 billion from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama March 23. Centers expect to see a significant number of new patients due to the health system reform law's Medicaid eligibility expansion, which is projected to increase enrollment by 16 million starting in 2014.

Health centers have benefited greatly from steady support from the Obama and Bush administrations. In 2000, the facilities received $945 million in federal funding, with the budget increasing to slightly more than $2 billion in 2008. That year they also received $2 billion in federal funding for site renovations, upgrades and expansions. Their patient load also spiked, from 9.6 million in 2000 to 17.1 million in 2008.

Now health centers face a similar escalation in about half the time, according to the National Assn. of Community Health Centers. "The real challenge will be managing the growth and creating the infrastructure for that growth," said Amy Simmons, an association spokeswoman. The current estimate of the number of patients served at these centers is about 20 million.

The new law provides approximately $1.3 billion more for physician training through the National Health Service Corps, as well as other funding for primary care training. The NACHC estimates that at least 15,000 physicians will be placed in underserved areas.

"Recruitment has been a challenge, particularly in rural areas," Simmons said.

The Obama administration has not announced how the $11 billion in funding will be distributed.

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