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ACA spurs hospitals and health centers to work together

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | July 25, 2013
Under the impending health reform, community health centers expect increased funding and floods of new patients, with hospitals likely seeing a drop in both. Still, hospitals and community health centers alike concur, one is not a threat to the other under the new law.

In fact, the two systems seem happy to work together for the greater good — at least for now.

"Many community health centers work in partnership with hospitals to direct patients with non-emergent conditions away from the ERs to the health center," Amy Simmons Farber, director of communications for the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), told DOTmed News. "Health centers reduce preventable hospitalizations and ER use among low-income and uninsured populations and save the health care system over $24 billion annually."

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When it comes to hospitals and community health centers, there is "absolutely no competition," according to Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president, external affairs, California Hospital Association.

"It's not us vs. them," she told DOTmed News. "We all have a role in the health care system."

As far as directing patients to one system over the other, nothing will change, according to Farber. The focus with health centers has been and always will be treating people before they are sick with an illness that requires costly hospital care, she said. Health centers do this by offering affordable and accessible primary care with a range of services that can include pharmacy, pediatrics, dentistry, OB-GYN, and behavioral health — all under one roof.

"When people have access to an affordable and accessible 'health care home', they use it and stay healthy," Farber says.

Health centers now serve over 22 million people nationwide in 9,000 communities and stand ready to serve more as health reform implementation moves forward, according to the NACHC.

Hospitals and community health centers are in the same orbit in the health care system, according to Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

"[Community health centers] are not competitive, but rather complimentary to hospitals within the health care delivery system," he told DOTmed News. "Community health centers are an important cog in our health care wheel."

Funding and patient enrollment

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, announced $150 million in grant awards to 1,159 health centers to enroll uninsured Americans in new health exchanges. The funds are intended to enable community health centers to hire 2,900 outreach and eligibility assistance workers to help the uninsured enroll into affordable health coverage options.

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