A new research brief from The George Washington University Department of Health Policy, supported by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, examines the effects of the draft House Tri-Committee (Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor and Ways and Means Committees) health reform bill on the capacity of community health centers to provide primary health care services to needy patients, including the newly insured and the millions who will remain uninsured.

The analysis finds that the House proposal would more than double the capacity of health centers from 16 million patients in 2007 to at least 36 million in 2015 and 39 million in 2019. In turn, the number of health center sites, which numbered 6,700 in 2007, could double over the next decade, expanding primary care services in thousands of rural, suburban and urban communities across the nation.

The brief, “Estimating the Effects of Health Reform on Health Centers’ Capacity to Expand to New Medically Underserved Communities and Populations,” finds that health reform proposal’s combination of reduced uninsurance through expansion of Medicaid, creation of subsidies to purchase private health insurance and higher funding levels will let health centers serve millions of additional needy low-income people.

The analysis also finds that the reach of the health centers program would be enhanced through better private insurance payment rates. Historically, private insurers have paid health centers 43 percent below the actual costs of care. If health centers received adequate reimbursement rates from private insurers, more in line with those paid by Medicaid, they would be able to serve 41 million patients in 2019, about two million more than if they paid existing private insurance rates.

“The expansion of primary care capacity is essential to the success of health reform,” said Mr. Julio Bellber, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation. “The draft House health reform bill addresses both coverage and capacity, and will let health centers provide care for millions more than are served today.”

“While it is critical to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, we also know that having an insurance card is not, by itself, sufficient if there are not enough primary care doctors and nurses to serve the newly insured,” said Dr. Leighton Ku, GW professor and lead author of the report. “The House proposal will go a long way in expanding the capacity of the community health care system to meet future needs.”

“The Potential Effect of National Health Reform on Community Health Centers and Their Patients” can be viewed online here.