Community Health Centers
Community, migrant, homeless, and public housing health centers—referred to as Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) or community health centers (CHCs)—are nonprofit, community-directed health care providers serving low income and medically underserved communities. Created by Congress over 40 years ago, the national network of community health centers provides high-quality, affordable primary and preventive care for those whom other providers often do not serve, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay.
In order to achieve the “federally qualified” status, community health centers must:
- Be governed by at least a 51 percent majority patient board – members who receive services at the health center – who make decisions about programs, services and expenditures.
- Be located in a medically underserved area or provide care to medically underserved populations.
- Provide comprehensive primary and preventive care services, including dental and mental health care. Other services often provided include lab, X-ray, pharmacy, transportation, health and nutrition education.
- Employ physicians who are board certified or eligible for certification.
- Establish a formal relationship with one or more hospitals, which includes admitting privileges and 24-hour access to services.
- Submit comprehensive health plans for their geographic area.
Health centers provide access to quality, cost-effective, affordable primary and preventive health care to all people who need it, regardless of ability to pay.
- Over 8,000 community health center sites across the country provide services to over 23 million patients. In Illinois, 447 sites – 286 traditional and 161 special population sites – see over 1.2 million patients each year.
- With a charge to serve the medically underserved, CHCs are often located in geographic regions where few other medical services or resources are available.
- Over 50 percent of Illinois health center patients are enrolled in Medicaid, Family Care or the All Kids programs; while nearly 32 percent have no health insurance at all.
- Nearly 77 percent of Illinois health center patients are at or below the federal poverty level (FPL) which is $22,050 per year for a family of four. CHC patients are more likely to have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, asthma or hypertension. In addition, CHCs serve many homeless individuals and those who struggle with HIV and/or AIDS.
- Health centers maintain a remarkable record of providing superior quality care, reducing health disparities, and saving money for taxpayers and insurers alike.
- Studies have found that the quality of care provided at health centers is equal to or greater than the quality of care provided elsewhere. Moreover, 99 percent of surveyed patients report that they were satisfied with the care they receive at health centers.
- Disparities in health status do not exist among health center patients, even after controlling for socio-demographic factors.
- Health centers save the health care system up to $24 billion a year. These savings are the result of reduced reliance on costly specialty, inpatient, and emergency room care.
- An expansion of health centers will achieve cost-savings, plain and simple. A recent study by the George Washington University found that if the network of Community Health Centers were expanded to accommodate an additional 20 million patients, the result would be $212 billion in savings for the health care system over a ten-year period.
- Annual medical expenses for health center patients are 41 percent lower compared to patients seen elsewhere.
- Health centers reduce emergency room visits for their patients, particularly among the uninsured who live near a health center.
Sources for information: Data specific to Illinois was generated from a review of the 2009 Illinois Uniform Data System reports. National data was obtained from the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), United States: At a Glance 2009.