From the CEO's Desk
Friday, August 12, 2016

Section: Spotlight Articles, August 2016

(This message originally appeared as an editorial in the Tennessean on August 12, 2016.) 

Communities across Tennessee have celebrated events recently as part of National Health Center Week, August 7-13. Health centers hosted back-to-school drives, community breakfasts, patient appreciation events, free health screenings, and much more.

The goal of National Health Center Week is to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s health centers over the course of more than five decades. This year's theme was "Celebrating America's Health Centers: Innovators in Community Health." In Tennessee there are 29 Federally Qualified Health Center organizations, also known as FQHCs, operating nearly 200 clinic sites.

One of the bright spots in America’s healthcare system, health centers started more than 50 years ago and they have a significant record of success. Health centers have produced $24 billion dollars in annual savings to the health care system. They have accomplished this by making primary health care services more accessible in economically distressed communities, reducing avoidable hospitalizations, and treating patients for a fraction of the average cost of one emergency room visit. Additionally, health centers have generated $26.5 billion in economic activity and more than 230,000 jobs nationwide. Because of their long record of success in innovation, managing healthcare costs, and reducing chronic disease, leaders in Congress have declared health centers a model of care that offers a bipartisan solution to the primary care access problems facing our nation.

Even given the high performance of health centers, patients need access to health care services provided beyond the walls of the health centers. The primary barrier to accessing health care services is lack of insurance. Of the nearly 385,000 patients served by Tennessee health centers, approximately 37 percent (142,435 patients) are uninsured. FQHCs provide patients with integral primary care services and make efforts to connect patients with other care providers in the area. When seeking additional health care services, however, patients encounter barriers to accessing specialty care, hospital care, and treatments for advanced disease states.

For that reason, the Tennessee Primary Care Association (TPCA) appreciates the time and effort that the 3-Star Healthy Project Task Force has invested in exploring a way to extend health care access to more Tennesseans. The Task Force has outlined a two-phased pilot. Phase One will provide insurance coverage to some uninsured veterans and individuals with qualifying behavioral health diagnoses. Phase Two will make coverage available to all qualifying Tennesseans with incomes up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

We encourage the Task Force to continue to work with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to finalize a plan that the Tennessee General Assembly can vote on in the 2017 legislative session. We firmly believe that providing access to Community Health Center services, as well as a path to health insurance, is the best way to ensure that Tennesseans can access the full range of health care services that they need.

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