National Health Center Week: Community/Migrant Health Centers and the Affordable Care Act

President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is moving towards full implementation.  By 2014, all parts of the law, including health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion (for those states that choose to expand their Medicaid programs) will be in effect.  Thanks to the ACA,  the Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 20 million and 23 million people will receive coverage through the state insurance exchanges and 16 to 17 million additional people will be enrolled in Medicaid. However, despite these achievements, there will be a considerable share of people who will remain uninsured and unable to pay for medical care. Unfortunately, this includes many of our nation’s farmworkers.

Migrant health centers will be an important safety net for farmworkers who will remain uninsured under the ACA.  Because they do not require insurance to receive services, farmworkers and their families will continue to have access to high quality primary healthcare even after the provisions of the ACA are fully implemented. Additionally, with the reduction of Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) funding (federal dollars to help hospitals cover the costs of uninsured patients), the function of migrant and community health centers will be critical as a way to reduce emergency room visits by the uninsured.

The ACA provides $11 billion in dedicated funding for community health centers, including migrant health centers, over a five-year period. These funds will support the construction, expansion, and operation of health centers.  According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, this funding will allow migrant health centers to almost double their capacity by 2015.

Although currently, fewer than 25% of farmworkers use migrant and community health centers for primary and preventative healthcare services, Farmworker Justice is working with farmworker community based organizations and advocates to increase those numbers.  As events unfold surrounding the ACA, FJ will also work with farmworkers, their healthcare providers and advocates to insure that migrant and community health centers remain an integral part of the primary healthcare of farmworkers and other medically underserved populations.