The range of healthcare providers in the U.S. is incredibly wide, from independent doctors operating out of their homes to internationally accredited hospitals teeming with thousands of employees. This diversity allows for a wide range of flexibility in where and how clinics and hospitals operate, whether at the center of a large city or at the local shopping center.
Some neighborhoods, however, do not have ready access to healthcare. This happens for a variety of reasons, including regional economic hardship and demographic trends that make it difficult to operate a medical facility. In those cases, the federal government steps in to ensure that those communities have their healthcare needs met.
What is a health center?
Although the term health center can be used in a general, generic sense, the federal government uses it to officially describe a specific type of health care organization that addresses certain patient populations and meets certain standards as part of the Health Center Program.
Under the federal definition, health centers are community-based and patient-directed, and they provide primary healthcare services “in areas where economic, geographic, or cultural barriers limit access to affordable health care services.”
There are many issues that can limit a patient’s access to healthcare, be they related to geography, language, culture, or cost. These problems are especially hard to overcome for vulnerable families and communities, which can include the homeless, residents of public housing, veterans, and agricultural workers. Health centers are intended to address these issues.
And in addition to medical care, health centers often provide integrated access to pharmacy services, mental health services, dental services, counseling, and addiction treatment.
How are health centers funded?
The majority of health centers rely on Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, patient fees, and other resources, but they also receive funding from the federal Health Center Program.
There are “look-alike” health centers in the program that do not receive HCP funds, however. These look-alikes can still apply for Medicare and Medicaid, and as part of the program, are eligible to purchase discounted drugs through the 340B Federal Drug Pricing Program.
What is a Federally Qualified Health Center?
For a health center to be a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), it must meet several stringent requirements. For example, it must be run by a governing board that includes patients, and they most provide care on a sliding fee scale based on the patient’s ability to pay, including free services.
There are many categories of FQHCs, including Community Health Centers, Migrant Health Centers, Health Care for the Homeless, and Health Centers for Residents of Public Housing.
The definition of a FQHN is set by federal law, under the Consolidated Health Center Program definitions in Section 1905(l)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act.