|SB Community Health Center - "Leading the Way"
For the past several years, South Boston Community Health Center and other organizations across the United States have taken part in national Cover the Uninsured Week during the first week of May. Thousands of events and activities are held across the country to raise awareness of the millions of Americans living without health insurance, worried that they are one major illness away from financial disaster.
This year, in Massachusetts, we have something to celebrate. Our Commonwealth has taken the lead in health care reform by signing into law legislation that aims to provide health insurance coverage to most of the state’s more than 500,000 uninsured. It is a bold move and it is being talked about and watched closely by every state in the nation.
Taking the lead in health care is not new for Massachusetts. Our Commonwealth has a proud history in leading the nation when it comes to addressing this critical aspect of our residents’ lives.
Forty years ago a movement was launched from Boston that changed the face of health care across the United States – the beginning of the community health movement and the opening of the first community health center. From that humble beginning in 1965 at Columbia Point, Dorchester, the community health center network has become the third largest unified primary health care program in the United States. In Massachusetts, more than 185 practice sites serve nearly 700,000 Massachusetts residents yearly.
Community health centers such as South Boston Community Health Center play a critical role in making this new Massachusetts experiment a success. Health centers have a longstanding commitment to, and expertise in, serving low-income patients with complex medical and social needs. Staffed by board-certified physicians and a range of other medical and social service providers, community health centers excel at providing preventive care and chronic disease management in lower cost community settings. These savings are passed on to the state’s Medicaid program and other insurers.
Health centers were providing patient-centered care long before the concept became industry “buzz.” We have developed nationally recognized programs of care for the chronically ill in diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, depression and cancer.
As a multicultural organization committed to health promotion and disease prevention, South Boston Community Health Center is a typical health center. We provide medical and dental care and social services in a patient-centered, culturally competent way. Staffed by caregivers who speak the languages and understand the cultures of their communities, health center effectiveness is reflected by a significant reduction in infant mortality and low birth weights, and an increase in patient self-management of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Sixty-three percent of all health center patients participating in a statewide model diabetes program actively set goals to better control their diabetes through diet, exercise and improved monitoring of blood sugar levels. Health center care generates savings for the system as a result of treating patients who would otherwise seek care through hospital emergency rooms or end up in hospital beds because of delayed treatment.
While there are still many details to work through and implement, health centers are eager to lend their community-based connections and expertise to make sure that everyone in Massachusetts has comprehensive health coverage they can both afford and use.
The central challenges in creating genuine reform are affordability and accessibility of health care. The potential premiums, deductibles and co-pays associated with the new health plans must be set at levels that acknowledge the myriad financial burdens of low-income individuals and families.
At the same time, having an insurance card does not automatically provide a person with access to health care. Health centers can play a key role in educating patients about expanded eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program and about the new insurance products that will come through the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector -- the authority that will make it easier for uninsured residents to purchase affordable insurance.
In addition to helping facilitate local health access, health centers look forward to playing a strong role in tracking health disparities and improving health outcomes across Massachusetts communities as mandated for providers in the legislation.
In order to fully contribute to the success of health care reform, community health centers must be counted among the providers in need of rate relief. With sufficient reimbursement and additional investments in technology and infrastructure, Massachusetts health centers can help ensure that our most vulnerable residents will have access to high quality, comprehensive health care services in their own communities.
Next year, we hope that Massachusetts’ involvement in Cover the Uninsured Week will be marked by even greater progress toward a historical goal: providing health care to all Massachusetts residents.
Chief Executive Officer