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Study: MA Patients Choose Health Center Care

8-8-11 Feature Story:

A George Washington University study on Massachusetts safety-net providers released this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the state's health centers saw a 31 percent increase in patients between 2005 and 2009 even as growing numbers of residents obtained coverage under the Commonwealth's health reform law.

Researchers concluded that health centers "remain a vital source of care even when people gain insurance" and that an overwhelming majority of patients who use community health centers do not view them as providers of last resort but rather "prefer the types of care offered there." Patients cited several reasons for their preference, including the convenience and affordability of care; the fact that health centers offer more than just medical services; and the presence of providers who speak their languages.

Since health reform was launched in 2006, Massachusetts health centers have expanded their hours of operation, increased capacity to handle urgent health care needs and successfully recruited primary care clinicians. They have also added 100,000 new patients to their ranks, and as the study points out, have been able to schedule primary care appointments for those new patients within reasonable wait times.

What's more, health centers have done this with remarkable efficiency. Between 2007 and 2009 health centers received an average rate increase of 4.6 percent for the services they provide to nearly 800,000 state residents. Over the same time period, the median annual private insurance premium cost for families jumped 10 percent while costs borne by small employers rose 12 percent.

"If this study serves as a bellwether for other states, it's encouraging news for getting a handle on health care costs nationally," said James W. Hunt, Jr., president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. "Growing consumer demand at community health centers may prove to be the real safety net for the future of our country's health system."

Click here to view the Massachusetts safety-net providers report.

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