For more than 50 years, the U.S. government’s Health Center Program has been a vital link in delivering affordable and accessible quality health care for millions of Americans, regardless of their ability to pay. The agency is comprised of 1,400 health centers that operate in more than 10,400 service delivery sites. These sites are located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Pacific Basin.
The Health Center Program is the largest program within the The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). This larger agency is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and is the primary agency tasked with improving health care for people who are geographically isolated, or who are economically or medically vulnerable.
For Fiscal Year 2018, the HRSA has a budget of $9.9 billion to fund more than 90 programs. Of this, the Health Center Program is the largest program within the agency and currently receives $5.1 billion in funding to carry out a number of missions.
How Health Centers work
Most health centers receive federal grant funding to improve the health of underserved and vulnerable populations. Some health centers receive funding to focus on special populations, such as the homeless, agricultural workers, public housing residents, and the nation’s veterans. The majority of health center operating funds come from Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, and patient fees for those who are able to pay on a sliding scale. Some health centers meet all Health Center Program requirements but do not receive any funding. These are called Health Center Program look-alikes.
All of these locations receive reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid, drug pricing discounts, free vaccines for uninsured and underinsured children through the Vaccines for Children Program, and help with recruiting primary health care providers through the National Health Service Corps.
Each health center operates under the direction of patient-majority governing boards of autonomous community-based organizations. These include public and private non-profits, tribal and faith-based organizations. They are charged with overseeing and developing a system of patient-centered care that responds to the unique needs of their particular areas and populations. One of the goals for each health center is to overcome any geographic, cultural, linguistic and other barriers to deliver comprehensive care and a wide array of preventative services.
As such, health centers reach a broad spectrum of people in need. Health centers currently serve:
- One in three people living in poverty nationwide
- One in six people living in rural communities
- One in 10 children 17 years or younger nationwide
- More than 330,000 veterans
Because of a comprehensive and proactive outreach into at risk communities, health centers actually reduce healthcare costs. The health center model of care has been shown to reduce the use of more costly forms of care, such as emergency departments of hospitals. A 2016 study found that health center patients had a 24% lower spending as compared to non-health center patients across all services.
How to find your nearest Health Center location
The Health Resources and Services Administration maintains a useful tool to help people find health centers location near them. To access the tool, go here.
Health Centers care for patients even if they do not have any health insurance. Patients pay what they can afford based on their income. Basic services at health centers include:
- Checkups when patients are well
- Treatment when patients are sick
- Complete care when a woman is pregnant
- Immunizations and checkups for children
Some health centers also provide mental health, substance abuse, oral health, and/or vision services. Contact the health center organization directly to confirm the availability of specific services and to make an appointment.
If you have questions, the HRSA Contact Center is available at 877-464-4772, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET