Community Health Centers Encouraged to Expand with $300 Million in Funding

The nation’s community health centers will receive up to $300 million in funding to help expand service hours and hire more medical providers, according to an announcement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The funding, which is provided for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), will allow community health centers to begin to offer oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy, and vision services.

Community Health Centers and the ACA

The ACA’s Community Health Center Fund provided $11 billion over five years for the operation, expansion, and construction of community health centers in the U.S. According to fact sheet by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), community health centers offer quality care that equals and often surpasses that provided by primary care providers. “Health centers,” according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “are key to the Affordable Care Act’s goal of expanding access to health care.”

Data from 2012 shows that community health centers “continue to provide high quality care and improve patient outcomes, while reducing disparities, despite serving a population that is often sicker and more at risk than seen nationally.” Specifically, the data shows a lower-than-average percentage of low birth weight babies, higher rates of prenatal care in the first trimester compared to previous years, and large percentages of patients who demonstrated control over diabetes or blood pressure. New funds will be used to expand funding for these facilities and provide practitioners to serve those in need.

Expanded Services Supplemental Funding

Under sec. 10503 of the ACA, the Expanded Services (ES) supplemental funding opportunity supports existing grantees of the Health Center Program, which is administered by the HRSA. The maximum amount that may be requested though the ES program, according to the application instructions, is derived by the following formula:

  • A base amount of $178,000, plus
  • An additional $2.00 per health center patient, plus
  • An additional $4.00 per health center uninsured patient.

Grantees requesting funding must demonstrate to CMS how the funds will be used to expand their health centers’ medical capacity, as well as the provision of services to underserved populations.

Expansion of Services and Capacity

In their applications, grantees must propose Expanded Medical Capacity (EMC) projects, detailing the expansion of community health centers’ existing primary care medical capacity. Such projects may hire new medical providers, expand the hours of operation of the facilities, and expand medical services. Fifty to 100 percent of the ES funding may go toward an EMC project. Grantees may also propose the utilization of funding toward Service Expansion (SE) projects, which would implement new oral health services (such as preventive, restorative, emergency, and specialty dental services), behavioral health services (such as substance abuse, mental health, and psychiatry services), pharmacy services, or vision services (such as optometry, comprehensive eye exams, vision services, and ophthalmology). Funding may not be used for construction costs, fixed or installed equipment, or purchases of facilities, land, or vehicles.

Projected Impact

Applicants who receive funding “must fully implement their Expanded Services projects and realize the full impact of Expanded Services funding within 2 years of funding,” according to the application instructions. Depending on the type of expansion proposed, applicants must provide projections for new and/or existing health center patients who are not currently receiving the proposed services. Applicants are encouraged to consider the current federal grant dollar cost per patient when determining projects.