Missouri gets $10.3 million to improve community health centers under Affordable Care Act
Missouri is receiving an additional $10.3 million in federal funding for community health centers, but none of the money is targeted for facilities on the Missouri side of the St. Louis area. The new funding is expected to bring services to an additional 17,500 patients in Columbia, Kansas City, Kirksville and Springfield, federal officials said this week.
The Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation in Sauget will receive $500,000 in facility improvement funding as well.
The federal money is for construction and equipment as part of $11 billion set aside to expand community health centers under the Affordable Care Act.
"My initial reaction is that we did OK, but not as well as we were hoping," says Joe Pierle, chief executive officer for the Missouri Primary Care Association, which represents 22 federally qualified health-center systems across Missouri.
"I don't envision there being any additional federal funding for capital projects for community health centers over the next several years."
He says centers in Missouri now serve 400,000 residents, but "we are just scratching the surface in terms of the needs out there."
Still, Pierle says, providers are grateful for the federal infusion of cash, and he disclosed that Missouri is expected to get additional funding for two new health centers, separate from Monday's announcement.
One of the centers is expected to be set up as part of Jefferson County's mental-health program called COMTREA or Community Treatment Inc.
"We anticipate some money being released in June that will help add primary medical care and dental care to their services," Pierle says. The other center will be in California, Mo., in the Jefferson City area.
Pierle says it's "a big disappointment" that more health-center dollars didn't go to the St. Louis area "because you have pretty extraordinary needs there." But some local centers got funding previously, he said, and only about one-third of all applications nationwide were funded.
The purpose of the money is to give health centers the extra capacity resulting from an increase in patients needing services under the Affordable Care Act.
Pierle says building this capacity is important because "you can give everybody health insurance and health coverage, but if they don't have a physical place to go to get care, what's the point? Coverage doesn't always equate with somebody getting services."
Federal officials sidestepped the issue of how a pending Supreme Court ruling on ACA might affect the funding. During a telephone conference call with reporters on Monday, health officials noted that the law already had improved or created many health centers and was expected to lead to the construction of 245 new centers over the next two years.
"We're are not going to speculate on what the Supreme Court may or may not do," said Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. "We don't have a crystal ball. We are moving forward with implementing this law and the very important commitment by the president and the administration to community health centers."
Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, says $9.5 billion of the $11 billion had been set aside to expand services over five years while $1.5 billion went to major construction and renovations. She says Monday's announcement marked the final installment of funding of the $1.5 billion for construction.
Wakefield says nearly 20 million Americans are being served by the centers, including an additional 3 million patients added since 2009. The number jumped dramatically, she said, due partly to people losing health insurance when they lost jobs during the recession and turned to health centers for medical care. In addition, she says, the capital project has resulted in thousands of jobs for doctors, nurses, dentists and other health-care providers.
The health centers have become a strong safety net to deliver primary-care services, promote wellness and manage chronic illnesses, she said.
"Those types of services at the end of the day can help prevent emergency room use and unnecessary hospitalizations."