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NACHC report spotlights health care access barriers in underserved communities

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BETHESDA, Md.Today, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) released a report finding that over 100 million Americans face barriers to accessing primary care. A trend of rural hospital closures and a worsening shortage of primary care providers are driving the crisis, leaving one-third of the U.S. population vulnerable to public health threats and untreated chronic diseases. The report, “Closing the Primary Care Gap,” describes America’s medically disenfranchised population and how, with expanded federal resources, Community Health Centers can begin to address gaps in primary care.
The primary care gap is deepening in underserved communities across our nation, and Community Health Centers are vital to filling in those gaps by providing critical routine health care services. The COVID-19 pandemic only illuminated existing healthcare inequalities in the most vulnerable areas of our nation, making it crystal clear the important role of health centers,” said Rachel Gonzales-Hanson, Interim President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). “The Closing the Primary Care Gap report illustrates an unfortunate picture of medically underserved Americans with a disproportionately higher risk of harm from preventable diseases – and one-quarter of them are children. Expanding access to primary health care must be a national priority.”
Access to primary care in medically disenfranchised communities can be improved through strategic federal investments, such as incentives for primary care practitioners to train and work in medically underserved communities and additional funding for health centers to expand their reach to more people who need care. Right now, there are not enough health centers to meet demand. The number of health center patients has grown by 6 million people, or 24% since 2015, and health centers are serving an unprecedented 30 million plus patients nationwide. There’s a host of challenges for health centers to navigate including financial uncertainty, a provider shortage worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a growing patient population who have multiple and complex health needs.
Health centers rely in part on federal funding to provide care to patients on a sliding fee scale. Though federal funding has increased by 14% since 2015, the per-patient, inflation-adjusted value of health center funding has declined by over $2 billion. With additional funding, health centers could extend their network of providers into medically disenfranchised communities to provide affordable, high-quality care to more patients.

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