A new analysis, “As COVID-19 Surges, Community Health Centers Face Serious Financial Instability” finds that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s community health centers are facing critical revenue losses that could significantly affect their ability to sustain operations.
The authors examined survey data from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) on the impact of COVID-19 on health center services and operations, which show both surging demand for COVID-19 related care and a major decline in the use of other health care services. According to the analysis, community health centers have tested more than 2 million patients for COVID-19 infection. Health center patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 account for approximately one in 13 of all COVID-19 cases nationwide. But the pandemic has taken a toll on health centers. As of mid-July, about one in 10 community health center sites nationwide were closed, six percent of health center staff members could not work, and weekly patient visits were 22 percent lower than before the pandemic.
The researchers estimate that between April 3 and July 17, health centers nationwide experienced losses in patient revenue, including Medicaid revenue, of nearly $2.2 billion. Medicaid accounted for 44 percent of total health center revenue in 2018, and along with other patient insurance revenue is critical to both maintaining basic primary care capacity, and to meeting the surge in need created by COVID-19.
The authors find that the five principal sources provided by Congress to stem the effects of revenue losses are either about to expire, or fall far short of what health centers need to both recover and remain stable.
Mounting an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and securing health care in the nation’s poorest communities, will require sustained support and funding. Additional short-term and long-term revenue are critical to sustaining both core and expanded CHC operations. If steps are not taken to ensure the near- and long-term financial stability of community health centers, the consequences could be dire.
The analysis is authored by researchers at the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH).