By Stacie Borrello, Communications and External Affairs Manager, North Carolina Community Health Center Association
National Health Center Week, which runs this August 7-13, 2022, is an annual, nationwide celebration of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), also known as Community Health Centers (CHCs), which provide integrated primary medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, and enabling services to more than 743,000 people in the state, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. By mission, Community Health Centers provide high-quality care in rural and medically underserved communities and to vulnerable populations, and as such are the backbone of the primary care safety net in North Carolina.
This National Health Center Week, CHCs across the state are holding over 30 public events in celebration of their accomplishments and the contributions of staff, stakeholders, and — most of all — patients, who make up a majority of all CHC governing boards.
Community Health Centers have much to celebrate, but they also face challenges due to the fact that North Carolina has not yet expanded Medicaid. While CHCs are the provider of choice for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians with private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid, 40 percent of Community Health Center patients are completely uninsured, which puts a strain on CHCs’ operating budgets and limits those patients’ ability to access care outside the CHC due to cost burdens.
A new analysis of health center finances and interviews released this week shows that expanding Medicaid would not only directly benefit those gaining coverage, it would significantly increase revenue for North Carolina’s Community Health Centers. On average, net increases in reimbursements to health centers would jump by 32.2% a year under Medicaid expansion—for health care services they are already providing to their uninsured patients.
“Under Medicaid expansion we would be getting an additional $3-4 million a year in revenue from Medicaid. Those are dollars that FQHCs will reinvest into new services and new practice locations,” said Chris Vann, chief development officer at CommWell Health, a Community Health Center with sites in five counties throughout the southeastern region of our state.
Because CHCs are required to reinvest all non-grant funds into programs that expand care access for the medically underserved, expanding Medicaid will not only promote financial stability for these critical providers, it will also enable CHCs to do even more to meet the needs of their communities: recruiting more providers to rural communities, expanding service lines like behavioral health and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) services, and increasing capacity to provide more North Carolinians with a primary care medical home.
For a detailed look at how Medicaid Expansion would benefit Community Health Centers and their patients, refer to the North Carolina Community Health Center Association’s August 2022 Issue Brief: More Than an Insurance Card: How Medicaid expansion will increase the services of NC Community Health Centers and improve health outcomes.
To highlight the urgency of Medicaid expansion, advocates gathered at the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, July 26, for a vigil ahead of lawmakers’ special session, which saw no action on passing Medicaid Expansion. One of the speakers at the vigil was Dr Joel Lutterman, Chief Medical Officer at Advance Community Health in Raleigh, who spoke about how inaction on Medicaid expansion has negatively impacted his patients and health center.