Community health centers are key ingredient for reform

Marking the 100th day since passage of President Obama's economic recovery act, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week touted the special role her department has played in moving stimulus money into the economy.

'We were the first department to release recovery act funding when resources began to flow to states to assist in the Medicaid program to make sure that Americans didn't lose essential health services, ' Secretary Sebelius told reporters and health care specialists on a press teleconference, Thursday, May 28th.

The recovery act also allocated more than $2 billion for community health centers, which serve some 17 million Americans annually, Sebelius added. 'Health centers close a gap by providing care for the underinsured and uninsured, and those who can't afford the treatment they desperately need,' she explained. 'They're a lifeline for millions of Americans.'

In addition to providing needed, affordable care to millions of people, the injection of recovery act funds to support community health centers alone will create or save at least 6,500 jobs, Sebelius estimated.

Recovery act funds will also support building new community health centers, creating additional jobs in construction and support services sectors. As many as 2 million additional Americans will have access to community health centers as a result of the recovery act funds, including about 1 million uninsured people, Sebelius predicted.

She also pointed to the important role community health centers can play in making comprehensive health reform workable.

'Health reform can't wait,' Secretary Sebelius went on. 'Many Americans go everyday without the care they need. Costs are skyrocketing, crushing families and businesses.'

Families have been forced to choose between medical care and other necessities. Insurance premiums for families have increased 85 percent over the last nine years, far outpacing inflation. And, without reform, families can expect to see an additional $1,000 added to their insurance bill each year going forward.

Small business have dropped health care insurance from their compensation packages at an alarming rate – almost by half over the past 15 years, Sebelius pointed out. 'People trying to buy that insurance in the private market are in desperate need of relief,' Sebelius explained. 'The costs are unacceptable and unsustainable.'

People seeking medical care but who can't afford insurance typically end up in an emergency room, Sebelius added. Because of this, high quality community health centers, as a quality alternative to emergency room care, are more necessary than ever.

Secretary Sebelius expressed confidence that the President's plan for comprehensive health care reform that provides greater, affordable access and that controls costs would be passed soon.