By Dr. Richard Petrucci
Being sick is a pain, but it’s even harder when you lack access to a primary care doctor or have no specialists available in your neighborhood. Sadly, this is a reality for 90 million Americans living in medically underserved communities across the country.
That’s why community health centers play such a vital role helping more than 1.8 million New Yorkers access comprehensive, affordable primary care.
Why are these centers such a growing, critical resource?
First, health centers fill a growing need to treat underserved populations – from low-income patients and expectant moms and babies to minorities and homeless patients – by offering integrated services all “under one roof.” In fact, patient volume grew 42 percent between 2008 and 2014, and New York health centers report 1.7 patient visits annually offering primary and preventive care, behavioral health services, dental care and substance abuse services, among other services.
As a result of these efforts, community health centers save an estimated $24 billion per year by reducing unnecessary hospitalizations or emergency room visits. Health centers have also been shown to reduce the costs of children’s primary care by approximately 35 percent.
These results are even more impressive when you examine our Medicaid system – the public health insurance program for low-income Americans. Today, Medicaid covers more than 74 million people, or roughly one in every five Americans. According to NACHC, community health centers care for one in six Medicaid members, and studies show health center patients with Medicaid have lower utilization of costly hospital and emergency department-related services compared to patients at other providers.
As a leading provider of Medicaid and Medicare Advantage managed care services, WellCare is proud to partner with more than 42 community health centers and satellite sites in New York, which provide access to comprehensive primary and preventive care for our nearly 291,000 members across the state.
This week has been designated National Health Center Week – a time to raise awareness about the mission and accomplishments of America’s community health centers. To support these efforts, we’re partnering with Neighborhood Health Center to support a Children’s Health Focus Day that includes a mammogram bus Wednesday at the Northwest location on Lawn Avenue and a Healthcare for the Homeless Day on Thursday at the Mattina location on Niagara Street.
As we celebrate National Health Center Week, let’s rally together to keep our community health centers at the forefront of health care discussions.
Dr. Richard Petrucci is medical director of WellCare of New York. He is board certified in internal medicine.