FQHCs Well Positioned to Lead

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By Don McDaniel
President and CEO
Sage Growth Partners

Generally speaking, FQHCs get it. Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are the network of publicly-funded health clinics throughout the country that serve the most vulnerable among us. They have been toiling in the vineyard for years, underappreciated and under the radar. Now, two significant environmental events have put FQHCs back on the map.

The Health Information and Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH)

The HITECH Act, a subset of provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), is designated to provide billions in incentives to foster adoption of electronic health records. Within HITECH, and in recognition of FQHCs’ special needs to make technology investments, there was almost $1 billion set aside—a significant portion of which went to fund FQHC technology needs. This money will allow FQHCs to continue their long-standing commitment to understanding, managing, and improving health disparities.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)

PPACA, otherwise known as health reform, triggers several events potentially favorable to FQHCs. First, the principal enrollment growth mechanism in health reform is an expansion of patient eligibility for Medicaid. Many of these patients are already being served by FQHCs–many for little or no pay–and FQHCs are well positioned to expand services to these individuals. Second, recognizing the vital importance of FQHCs, PPACA commits to further investments in these safety net clinics. Finally, PPACA created the accountable care organization (ACO) movement which is just now shaking out. ACOs are being tasked with managing the health status of a population (minimum of 5,000 beneficiaries for Medicare ACOs). While FQHCs cannot lead an ACO, they are well equipped and positioned to be substantive partners in ACOs and to drive value.

FQHCs are not perfect, and like any group, there are FQHCs that provide less than optimal, very expensive care. This being said, most FQHCs have a true “systems view” of challenges, a commitment to improving the health of their patients, and assets and endowments that can make a difference.