In five years, the nation's community health centers are expected to serve 40 million Americans — mostly those who don't have any insurance or are underinsured.
That's more than double the number of patients seen in 2009.
"They are part of the health care fabric," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after touring Wichita's GraceMed Health Clinic on Thursday.
The health care reform act that became law in March will provide $11 billion for clinics such as GraceMed over the next five years.
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While the November elections saw voters fire a rebuke at President Obama's administration on a number of issues, Sebelius said she doesn't see health care reform being gutted or completely rewritten.
"I think there will be discussion," the former Kansas governor said. "I think there are some ways we can begin to improve it.
"I don't see — at least in the next couple of years — the votes being there to actually repeal the bill."
Sebelius was at GraceMed — a public-private partnership — to help it celebrate five years of growth.
GraceMed saw about 46,000 patients in 2009, more than triple the number from five years earlier. During that time, it has also seen its space grow by more than six times to 33,000 square feet, added four satellite clinics and increased the number of employees from 20 to 100, CEO Dave Sanford said.
After Sebelius toured the main center at 1122 N. Topeka, stopping frequently to talk to staff, she spoke to a gathering in the lobby that included Mayor Carl Brewer, county commissioners, state legislators and supporters.
"These centers are rooted in the neighborhoods," Sebelius said. "People really feel kind of a connection to community health centers that they don't feel when they visit a provider's office."
With the poor economy, the need for the centers continues to grow.
"We're seeing patients who don't have a place to go, so they come here," said Kevin Raymer, a physician at GraceMed. "We're seeing them at their low point. We try to provide some relief."
About 50 percent of those seen at GraceMed have some insurance. But even those with no insurance pay at least something for services, Sanford said.
"It's not a handout, an entitlement program," Sanford said.
About half of GraceMed's $6 million annual budget comes from Medicare, Medicaid and HealthWave reimbursements. The budget also includes a $700,000 yearly federal grant.
But Sanford also noted that Kansas ranked 50th in the nation in receiving federal funds for community health centers from 2002 to 2009. The state received almost $3 million during that time for its 12 centers.
Only the District of Columbia and Wyoming received less.
"So we have some work to bring new resources to Kansas," Sanford said as he introduced Sebelius. "We all know someone who might help us accomplish just that."
Sebelius smiled and said, "I'll have to look at that. When I get back (to Washington), I'll look at that map."