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Community health centers offer care, even with no insurance coverage

Imagine you just lost your job. For too many these days, this is not an imaginary scenario.

You’re sitting at the kitchen table with a notepad, thinking about evaluating your savings, keeping up with the rent, canceling the cable television, gathering the grocery coupons out of the mail that you used to throw away.
Suddenly, from the next room, you hear your daughter sneeze. That’s when you remember – losing your job means your family will lose health insurance, too.

The ongoing national debate over health care reform is not an exercise in abstractions. It’s rooted in just these kinds of stories. The number of uninsured Americans was already on the rise before the economic downturn. That’s why elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, have committed anew to finding a long-term solution.

But there’s good news to share about the here and now. Community health centers are playing their long-standing role: serving as primary points of access to high-quality health care, regardless of a person’s insurance status or ability to pay.

Community health centers, also known as federally qualified health centers, are nonprofit, locally directed providers of primary and preventive health care, other medical services and enabling services.
America’s 1,200-plus health centers are home to more than 18 million people.

Many health center patients are uninsured. Others have private insurance and choose community health centers because they like the quality of care and the fact that every patient is treated with dignity. Still others have public insurance, such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Community health centers are keeping our communities healthy and our economy healthy. They were among the first entities to receive money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or federal economic stimulus. At national, state and local levels, these federal funds exemplify the value community health centers serve, and how they fit into plans for health reform. The funding is being used to provide care to more people as they lose their jobs and their health insurance.

- Travis J. Robinette is chief executive of Sun Life Family Health Center.

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