WASHINGTON and NEW YORK – Community health centers in Massachusetts saw a significant increase in their patient load from 2005 to 2007 as that state began implementing its health reform law. In addition, the proportion of the State’s uninsured served at community health centers increased. These findings demonstrate the importance of community health centers and the continuing need for a robust primary care safety net, according to a new report titled, “How is the Primary Care Safety Net Faring in Massachusetts? Community Health Centers in the Midst of Health Reform.”

In April 2006, Massachusetts enacted a landmark, comprehensive health reform law known as “An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care,” or “Chapter 58.” The reform sought to achieve near-universal coverage for state residents through individual mandates, expansion of the state Medicaid program, and a new subsidized insurance program.

Because community health centers play a particularly important role in Massachusetts, serving one out of every 13 state residents, the impact of reform on that state’s health centers is particularly instructive. The 34 federally-qualified centers in Massachusetts served 482,503 patients in 2007, up more than 51,000 from two years before, the report found. Further, while there was a decrease in the number of uninsured statewide, the percentage of uninsured Massachusetts residents served by health centers grew from 22 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2007, suggesting health centers’ growing importance to Massachusetts’ remaining uninsured population. Meanwhile, health reform did not alter the overall financial status of the health centers. The authors conclude that insurance expansions must be accompanied by investments in health care delivery infrastructure, especially primary care capacity in order to ensure access as well as coverage.

“This study underscores the essential role of primary care in general and health centers in particular as part of comprehensive reform,” said Sara Rosenbaum, Hirsh Professor and Chair, Department of Health Policy School of Public Health and Health Services at the George Washington University Medical Center.

“The report illustrates the impact of Massachusetts’ health reform on community health centers, as well their continued importance in providing high quality comprehensive care to a broad population,” said Julio Bellber, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation. “The findings provide important considerations for the administration as it plans for health reform nationally.”

The report can be viewed online here.

The research, commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, was conducted by GW faculty at the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, located in the Department of Health Policy at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. The Collaborative is a multi-faceted academic training and research initiative created in 2007 through a gift from the RCHN Community Health Foundation.

About the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit private operating foundation, based in Menlo Park, California, dedicated to producing and communicating the best possible information, research and analysis on health issues. The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured is the main source for the Foundation’s work related to the Medicaid and CHIP programs. Begun in 1991, the Commission is the largest operating program of the Foundation and has brought increased analysis and attention to health coverage issues facing the low-income population for over a decade. Through its reports and briefings, the Commission continues to provide up-to-date information on Medicaid and CHIP and assesses options for reform. For more information, visit www.kff.org.

About the RCHN Community Health Foundation

The RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF) is a New York-based not-for-profit operating foundation dedicated to supporting and benefiting community health centers (CHCs) in New York state and nationally. The Foundation develops and supports programmatic and business initiatives related to community health center access, pharmacy and health information technology through strategic investment, research, outreach, education, and coalition building. For more information about RCHN CHF, contact Chief Operating Officer / EVP Feygele Jacobs at (212) 246-1122, ext. 712, or fjacobs@rchnfoundation.org or visit www.rchnfoundation.org.

About The George Washington University Medical Center
The George Washington University Medical Center is an internationally recognized interdisciplinary academic health center that has consistently provided high-quality medical care in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, since 1824. The Medical Center comprises the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the 11th oldest medical school in the country; the School of Public Health and Health Services, the only such school in the nation’s capital; GW Hospital, jointly owned and operated by a partnership between The George Washington University and a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.; and the GW Medical Faculty Associates, an independent faculty practice plan. For more information on GWUMC, visit www.gwumc.edu.