By Travis Robinette, Chief Executive Officer, Sun Life Family Health Center
With the campaign season in full swing, we regularly hear about bold new health reform proposals that target insurance coverage as a sure fix for what ails our health care system. But at Sun Life Family Health Center the growing line of patients outside our health center doors demonstrates one simple truth: insuring the uninsured alone will not grant access to a health care home.
As we mark National Health Center Week (August 10-16th, 2008), there are 56 million people in this country – nearly one in five Americans – without a source of primary care to help them stay healthy and out of emergency rooms. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Robert Graham Center, many of these people have a health insurance card but no place to go for care – no health care home. It doesn't have to be that way.
At Sun Life Family Health Center, we are proud to be part of an aggressive new plan called ACCESS for All America that will bridge the widening gap between the demand for primary health care services and the available supply. How? By expanding and strengthening a community health system that, for more than 40 years, has proven its value by achieving cost savings through increased access to preventive health services. The payoff is a strengthened primary care infrastructure that results in healthier communities around the nation.
Imagine the difference we can make by creating and staffing more health care homes through health centers. Health centers save the health care system an estimated $9.9 billion to $17.6 billion a year by providing care to anyone regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. The cost of treating a health center patient is 41 percent lower than other providers. That's why most Republicans and Democrats agree that the health center program has proven its worth as a sound taxpayer investment, with top rating as one of the most highly effective federal programs by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Putting the ACCESS plan into action requires continued investment and strong partnership from the federal government. For example, to grow and develop to serve 30 million people, health centers will need $10.5 billion for renovation of new facilities and equipment. In addition, health centers will need more primary care doctors and health professionals ready and willing to serve communities in need. The payoff is a strengthened primary care infrastructure that will create healthier people in our community and around the nation.
Improving both health insurance coverage and access are important steps to fixing our ailing health care system. Without adequate support for America's health centers, we miss the opportunity to pursue the real cost-saving strategy: Pre-empt the $18 billion wasted each year on avoidable and costly visits to the ER by treating patients when their health and illnesses are still manageable. This National Health Center Week 2008 (August 10-16, 2008), we must spread the message that there is already a system of care in place that saves lives and deserves continued investment and public support. Best of all, you don't need an insurance card to get in the door.
Sun Life Family Health Center is a not-for-profit organization providing health care to Casa Grande, Eloy, Coolidge, Maricopa, Mammoth, Oracle and San Manuel. The Casa Grande facility is the flagship of the organization, offering multi-specialty services including Family Practice, OB/GYN, Dental, Radiology, Pharmacy and Laboratory. The San Manuel facility also offers Laboratory, Radiology and Pharmacy services. Behavioral Health services are also available at the Casa Grande and San Manual facilities. Sun Life is one of two community health centers in the state receiving accreditation from the Joint Commission. For more information about Sun Life Family Health Center visit www.sunlifefamilyhealth.org. For more information about National Health Center Week visit www.healthcenterweek.org.