State of the Safety Net Release: Nonprofit Clinics Face Challenges

An alarming majority of U.S. nonprofit health centers, community clinics, and free clinics are seeing increased patient numbers, expect to treat more patients without insurance and predict more challenging conditions in the upcoming year based on funding and patient trends, according to data released today in the largest national survey of these facilities.

The findings are contained in Direct Relief’s annual The State of the Safety Net, a one-of-a-kind report that summarizes the results of a survey conducted in early 2012 of U.S. nonprofit community-based health clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and free clinics as well as recent trends identified by unique analysis of the last five years of FQHC data. Direct Relief estimates that nonprofit clinics and health centers collectively provide care to over 21 million people across the United States annually.

 “America’s nonprofit community health centers, clinics, and free clinics are the backbone of our nation’s health care safety net, providing care regardless of a person’s insurance status, income, or ability to pay,” said Thomas Tighe, President and CEO of Direct Relief.  “The report reflects the extensive role they have played and the pressures they have encountered while caring for the most vulnerable people in the country during an extended period of intense economic distress.”

In the wake of continuing economic turbulence and the Supreme Court ruling on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, uncertainty remains about the law’s implementation in various states. As these debates continue, analysis of FQHC data documents national increases in overall patients seeking care at FQHCs, higher rates of chronic conditions among patients, a higher percentage of patients at or below the poverty level, and state-level differences with respect to increases and decreases in rates of Medicaid patients, uninsured, and diabetic patients.

“How such facilities and their patients fare is,  and will be, an important indicator of whether the basic goals of health reform — access to affordable, high-quality care for people who don’t have it now — are being met,” said Tighe.

The survey uncovers that 79 percent of nonprofit community-based clinic and health center respondents saw an increase number of patients in 2011, and 86 percent expected the number of patients without health insurance to increase during 2012.  In addition to the rise in the overall number of patients, the clinics are also seeing an increase in the number of patients seeking care for chronic illnesses – like diabetes and hypertension – that require more services over a longer period, further adding to the increased pressure on the health centers. 

The State of the Safety Net 2012 report is available here.

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