Fifty years ago, the world witnessed the first heart transplant, the publication of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine and the very first Super Bowl – a regrettable Chiefs loss to the Packers that would be followed three years later by Hank Stram’s storied victory.
Virtually unnoticed in that same year was the beginning of a grand experiment we have come to know and love as the national Health Center Program. The program proved to be every bit as enduring as the Super Bowl and far less controversial than just about any issue of Rolling Stone since.
The reason for its durability is simple. It works. It works for more than 25 million Americans as an affordable way to access quality health care, even if they don’t have insurance. Over the years, the centers have saved countless lives, reduced and prevented chronic disease through innovative solutions and greatly reduced the dependence of uninsured and underinsured patients on costly emergency room care.
According to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, health centers save, on average, $2,371 (or 24 percent) in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers. They produce $24 billion in annual health system savings, and treat about 17 percent of all Medicaid beneficiaries for less than two percent of the national Medicaid budget.
Of course, these are potentially dangerous times for Medicaid budgets. In Kansas, health centers and hospitals have been valiantly fighting to provide the care our patients can get nowhere else in a political environment that demands we do even more with even less. Meanwhile most other states are benefitting from access to expanded federal funding that our leadership has declined.
If there is a single issue that has dominated the headlines more consistently than all others over the past few years, it would have to be health care. Certainly it’s hard to point to a more divisive topic in our political discourse. But as The week of Aug. 13 to 19 has been designated National Health Center Week, it’s worthy of note precisely because the value of our nation’s Health Centers is one aspect of the health care debate that every side of can agree on.
You will be hard pressed to find anyone in Congress (federal or state) to challenge the fact that health centers across the country are delivering high quality care at a lower cost for uninsured and underinsured Americans who need it most. Community Health Centers don’t just improve the quality of health and life enjoyed by the people they serve; they also make enormous contributions to a healthier economy by reducing costly visits to emergency rooms and building a healthier workforce.
With funding at risk both nationally and here in Kansas, health centers like GraceMed here in McPherson need all the friends we can get. GraceMed is now the largest network of Federally Qualified Health Centers in Kansas, but our importance to the medical and economic health of the communities we serve is significantly unknown.
From my own experience as the CEO of the state’s largest network of health centers, I know that providing access to care is nothing less than essential for our children to thrive and our families to survive. We like to say that if you have your health you have everything. During National Health Center Week, we recognize that for more and more of our friends, family and neighbors, Health Centers are the way to achieve and maintain good health.