As seen in the fiscal year 2011 federal budget fight, the current fiscal year 2012 budget discussions are shaping up to be equally, if not more, contentious. While the federal government and state legislators grapple with proposed budget cuts and looming budget deficits, programs that provide services to the most vulnerable in our society might be at risk.
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NSCL), state deficits for 2012-13 are expected to total $150 billion. Moreover, federal proposals to overhaul Medicaid and Medicare, the new proposed rules regarding accountable care organizations, and the federal debt limit debate create a perfect storm that will have long-term system-changing impact on community health centers (CHCs).
In times of fiscal restraint, many might ask, “Why do community health centers matter?” Nationally, CHCs serve greater than 23 million people in more than 8,000 communities across the country. Approximately, 35 percent of health center patients are Medicaid recipients, approximately 40 percent are uninsured and approximately 7.5 percent are Medicare beneficiaries.
In Maryland, there are 16 organizations that operate 110 site locations and one mobile health unit and provide care to approximately 261,875 patients in urban and rural communities across the state. With health care expansion, between 2011 and 2015, community health centers in Maryland plan to add an additional 100,000 patients to their rolls. In 2015, MACHC estimates there will be more than 1.8 million patient encounters across the safety net.
In addition, the return on investment in CHCs is significant, producing an estimated $24 billion in annual health system savings. Furthermore, CHCs support many businesses both directly and indirectly. Directly, CHCs purchase medical supplies and equipment from local and national distributors. CHC employees and their families also spend millions of dollars on goods and services, spurring additional job and economic growth. In Maryland, the $131 million in revenue received by CHCs spurs an estimated $241 million dollars of activity.
Beyond their cost-saving, quality improvement mission, there is another reason that CHCs matter. They matter because of the people we serve. They are our mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, uncle, aunts and cousins. They are the men and women who work every day to build better lives for their families. They are the souls who have fallen through the cracks of our society who want a second chance. They are the children who receive preventive and dental care from our centers.
As the debates rage in Washington and in our state capitals regarding budgets and fiscal responsibility, we must remember that CHCs matter not only because they provide quality cost-saving services. But, most importantly, they matter because people matter.
Miguel McInnis is chief operating officer of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Community Health Centers.