Health centers prepare for impact of insurance reform

With full implementation of the health care law on everyone's mind, from providers to insurers to employers, federally qualified health centers have long been viewed as a critical piece of expanding access, many of them anticipating an influx of new patients and thus an increase in services.

But while the Affordable Care Act will add significant funding for the nonprofit health sector, such health centers are rapidly evolving on their own, in part to address changes in health care but also in response to increasing demand, according to North Bay health center executives.

What that essentially means is that health centers are increasingly expanding to include more than just the primary care and safety-net offerings they've traditionally focused on and adding new, more nuanced and complementary services such as mental health, nutritional education and others.

[caption id="attachment_66403" align="alignright" width="108"] Kathie Powell[/caption]

"We've really added some complementary medicine," said Kathie Powell, chief executive officer of Petaluma Health Center.  "And basically the reason we're doing that is because we get so much better outcomes."

Yet health centers will also face some unique challenges of their own, particularly as more of the population obtains health insurance, either through a significant Medicaid expansion or through state-run health exchanges, where individuals will be able to shop for insurance with federal subsidies for those who quality.

Although it's unlikely that health centers will see their demand lessen significantly as a result, health centers should still be considering how they can attract new patients while maintaining their existing base, according to Mark Knight, a Santa Rosa-based health care consultant.

[caption id="attachment_66401" align="alignright" width="120"] Mark Knight[/caption]

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