Over One Million Community Health Center Patients in 25 States Will Remain Uninsured and Left Out of Health Reform, New Report Says

Released: 10/14/2013 12:05 PM EDT
Embargo expired: 10/16/2013 10:00 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: George Washington University
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Newswise — WASHINGTON, DC and NEW YORK (Oct. 16, 2013)— A new report by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) examines the impact of health reform on community health centers (CHCs) and their patients. “Assessing the Potential Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Uninsured Community Health Center Patients: A Nationwide and State-by-State Analysis,” estimates that more than 5 million health center patients would have gained coverage had all states participated in a sweeping Medicaid expansion. However, nearly half of all CHCs are located in states that have opted out of the expansion. As a result, more than a million uninsured CHC patients who would have been covered under a nationwide Medicaid expansion will be left without the protection of health insurance, the report says.

“Our analysis shows that if you are poor and live in one of the 25 opt-out states, you are likely to have been left out when it comes to health reform,” says lead author Peter Shin, PhD, MPH, director of the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy and an associate professor of health policy at SPHHS. “Community health centers in the opt-out states will be faced with waiting rooms filled with uninsured patients, many with serious and costly health problems.”

The nation’s 1,128 CHCs form the core of the nation’s safety net, providing comprehensive care in 8,000 medically underserved urban and rural communities. The new report uses survey data to estimate the number of CHC patients who would gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a key part of the law--the adult Medicaid expansion. Last year’s Supreme Court ruling upheld the ACA but allowed states to choose whether to participate in the Medicaid expansion. To date, 25 states, many of which are southern states, have rejected the Medicaid expansion. Of the health center patients denied expansion coverage, 72 percent live in a southern state.

Shin and his colleagues analyzed data from both the 2009 Health Center User Survey and the 2011 Uniform Data System to gauge the impact of the ACA on health center patients nationally and in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Based on conservative assumptions, the analysis showed that over one million health center patients in the opt-out states who would have gained Medicaid coverage under an expansion will likely remain without insurance. These patients are very poor but do not qualify for the traditional Medicaid program and often cannot pay for health care - even at reduced fees, the study concludes. Ironically, these patients are also too poor to qualify for subsidies that would allow them to purchase health insurance at reduced rates on the new Health Insurance Exchanges.

The bottom line for the 518 health centers located in the opt-out states: the report says they’ll forgo approximately $555 million they would have received had their states expanded Medicaid, yet by law, they will still be treating all community residents, including those who lack health insurance or the means to pay for care.

“Health centers in the opt-out states will face an ongoing struggle to meet the need for care in medically underserved communities as a result of the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues in 2014 alone,” said Sara Rosenbaum, JD, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy at SPHHS and a co-author of the report.

The report paints a very different picture for the 582 health centers in states that participate in the Medicaid expansion. Approximately 2.8 million patients at these health centers will gain coverage as a result of that decision. This added coverage will translate into a potential revenue increase of over $2 billion, which will support expanded staff and services.

States that have rejected the Medicaid expansion might reconsider and decide to expand coverage. Ohio’s just-announced Medicaid expansion is estimated to translate to over 63,000 residents gaining coverage and an additional $29 million in revenue gains in 2014 across 33 health centers. But in the near term, the report warns that many poor people living in the 25 opt-out states will continue to lack coverage and might find long wait times at clinics, long distances to find care, and other barriers that could translate to delays in treatment or no care at all. CHCs in those states will be unable to add much-needed services such as mental health or dental care, or to expand into remote or other seriously underserved areas—places where people have to travel for hours just to find a doctor.

“Community health centers represent the backbone of the nation’s safety net, providing high quality care to more than 20 million Americans who live in underserved neighborhoods,” says Feygele Jacobs, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation. “Without the Medicaid expansion, CHCs in opt-out states will fall behind and will have trouble providing the kind of care that keeps people and communities healthy.”

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About the Geiger Gibson / RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative:
The Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy, established in 2003 and named after human rights and health center pioneers Drs. H. Jack Geiger and Count Gibson, is part of the School of Public Health and Health Services at The George Washington University. It focuses on the history and contributions of health centers and the major policy issues that affect health centers, their communities, and the patients that they serve. Additional information about the Research Collaborative can be found online at http://sphhs.gwu.edu/projects/geiger-gibson-program or at rchnfoundation.org.

About the RCHN Community Health Foundation:
The RCHN Community Health Foundation is a not-for-profit operating foundation established to support community health centers through strategic investment, outreach, education, and cutting-edge health policy research. The only foundation in the U.S. dedicated solely to community health centers, RCHN CHF builds on a long-standing commitment to providing accessible, high-quality, community-based healthcare services for underserved and medically vulnerable populations. The Foundation’s gift to the Geiger Gibson program supports health center research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.rchnfoundation.org.

About the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services:
Established in July 1997, the School of Public Health and Health Services brought together three longstanding university programs in the schools of medicine, business, and education and is now the only school of public health in the nation’s capital. Today, more than 1,100 students from nearly every U.S. state and more than 40 nations pursue undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral-level degrees in public health. The school now offers an online Master of Public Health, MPH@GW, which allows students to pursue their degree from anywhere in the world. http://sphhs.gwu.edu/


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