While our policy makers continue to debate Medicaid expansion, Utah's 13 Health Center organizations struggle to meet the needs and demands of our existing uninsured patients. Some have suggested that Utah does not need Medicaid expansion based on the work of Health Centers. We do not agree. We know expansion is vitally important to the health and well-being of low-income families and to Utah's economy.
In order to understand our position, it may be helpful to understand our structure and the role we play. Utah's 13 Health Center organizations operate 40 clinics across the state. They are the medical home for approximately 128,000 Utahns, providing more than 415,000 medical, dental and behavioral health visits annually. They are a part of a 45-year-old national grant program administered by the Federal Bureau of Primary Health Care The Health Center Program that currently serves more than 21 million Americans at over 8,000 clinic locations across the country. While the federal Health Center Program provides a base grant to the centers, we are not federally owned nor operated. Health Centers are community owned, not-for-profit entities governed by patient majority boards – allowing centers to remain responsive to community needs. Health Centers are not free clinics. They accept most forms of insurance and offer discounted fees to low-income, uninsured patients. Uninsured patients below poverty level pay a nominal fee and are not turned away based on an inability to pay.
Utah's Health Centers struggle financially to meet the needs of our uninsured patients. In 2013, Utah's Health Centers provided over $44 million in care to uninsured patients $22 million of which was not covered by federal grants or discounted patient fees. Health Centers operate best when they serve a balanced mix of insured and uninsured patients. Utah's Centers provide care to nearly twice the percentage of uninsured patients than the national average, yet we receive similar base grant funding as our national colleagues. This funding shortfall causes extreme fiscal fragility and limited access to care. A new study from the Milken Institute at George Washington University estimates that because Utah has refused to expand Medicaid, Utah Health Centers will lose out on approximately $16 million in increased revenue in 2014 alone - revenue that would translate directly into additional health care jobs, tax revenue and expanded services such as dental benefits that are not currently covered.