Fifty years ago, the world witnessed the first heart transplant, the publication of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine and the first Super Bowl – a regrettable Chiefs loss to the Packers that would be followed three years later by Hank Stram’s storied victory.
Virtually unnoticed in that same year was the beginning of a grand experiment we have come to know and love as the national Health Center Program. The program proved to be every bit as enduring as the Super Bowl and far less controversial than just about any issue of Rolling Stone.
The reason for its durability is simple. It works. It works for more than 25 million Americans as an affordable way to access quality health care, even if they don’t have insurance. Over the years, the centers have saved countless lives, reduced and prevented chronic disease through innovative solutions, and greatly reduced the dependence of uninsured and underinsured patients on costly emergency room care.
As health care has become a political football over those 50 years, health centers have emerged as America’s Team, enjoying rare bipartisan support. And why not? The numbers are hard to argue with. According to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, health centers save on average $2,371 (or 24 percent) in total spending per Medicaid patient when compared to other providers. They produce $24 billion in annual health system savings, and treat about 17 percent of all Medicaid beneficiaries for less than 2 percent of the national Medicaid budget.
Of course, these are potentially dangerous times for Medicaid budgets. In Kansas, health centers and hospitals have been valiantly fighting to provide the care our patients can get nowhere else in a political environment that demands we do even more with even less. Meanwhile, most other states are benefiting from access to expanded federal funding that our leadership has declined.
The week of August 13-19 has been designated National Health Center Week. Health centers around the country will be having events to make new friends in the communities they serve. With funding at risk both nationally and here in Kansas, health centers like GraceMed here in Wichita need all the friends we can get. GraceMed is now serving 1 in every 10 patients in the city, but our impact and importance to the medical and economic health of the community is significantly unknown.
GraceMed’s celebration event for National Health Center Week will happen at our Ablah Clinic, 3417 S. Meridian, on the campus of the South YMCA from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday. Come learn more about community health centers.
Dave Sanford is CEO of GraceMed Health Clinic.