Federally funded community health centers will receive an additional $10 billion over five years under the health care reform bill (HR 3590) signed into law on Tuesday by President Obama, as well as an expected $2.5 billion from the "corrections" bill (HR 4872) under debate in Congress, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The clinics -- the number of which nearly doubled under President George W. Bush -- currently receive about $2 billion annually in federal funds.
The National Association of Community Health Centers estimates that the additional funding would help the clinics reach an additional 20 million patients. Reform legislation also allocates some funding for medical students’ tuition as an incentive to work in primary-care clinics.
Background on Community Health Centers
Community health centers "are an anchor of primary care" for immigrants and residents of rural areas and inner cities, providing basic services such as blood and dental work for about 20 million U.S. residents, according to the Journal.
Patients who visit the clinics are charged based on their ability to pay. The clinics' staff members receive salaries and as a result have little incentive to order additional tests or procedures to generate more revenue, a criticism of fee-for-service payment methods.
Proponents of the clinics, such as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), consider them the "ultimate safety net" for millions of people who will remain uninsured despite reform's passage.
Critics contend that the clinics provide unfair competition for private practices and represent another unnecessary public incursion into the health care system (Favole, Wall Street Journal, 3/25).