The nation’s community health centers play an increasingly visible role in the maturing, post-Affordable Care Act (ACA) market and continue to show major growth, according to two new studies issued by the Geiger Gibson / RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Community Health Centers’ Experiences in a More Mature ACA Market, published in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, reports findings from a comprehensive survey of community health centers to provide a snapshot of health centers’ outreach and enrollment activities, as well as changes in service capacity and overall financial condition since implementation of the ACA. Community health centers continued to play an important role in connecting consumers to coverage even as they faced challenges during the 2017-2018 open enrollment period because of the shorter enrollment period in effect in most states, and reductions in navigator funding. The report also examines growth in health center services and capacity in the past calendar year, finding the most commonly reported increases were for mental health services and staff, substance use disorder treatment services and staff, chronic care management services, and dental services and staff.

A second study, released as part of the Geiger Gibson/ RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative’ s signature policy brief series, examines the continued growth of community health centers in 2017, when health centers served nearly 28 million patients. Based on newly released data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Uniform Data System, the report documents a five percent growth in the number of patients served between 2016 and 2017 and a near-tripling of the number of patients served between 2000 and 2017. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of Medicaid and privately insured patients served increased by 78 percent and 77 percent, respectively. While the proportion of uninsured patients has steadily declined as a result of the ACA, health centers continue to treat large numbers of patients without health insurance – 6.2 million in 2017, or one in every five uninsured people. The ACA adult Medicaid expansion continues to be associated with far more robust growth in capacity; health centers in expansion states show substantially greater patient care capacity.

This brief, “Community Health Centers Continued to Expand Patient and Service Capacity in 2017” is part of the Collaborative’s ongoing policy research series and is now available on our website.

Community health centers have emerged as an indispensable part of the health care system, providing ongoing, high-value care to many of the nation’s most vulnerable people. These studies show that both a strengthened grant program and insurance expansion are essential to maintain growth in capacity and services.

Read the brief here: “Community Health Centers Continued to Expand Patient and Service Capacity in 2017”