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Strengthening Health Centers to Strengthen Our Communities

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting a high-energy forum at a community health center in my home town of  Detroit, and saw firsthand  how vital community health centers are as a source of quality health care. Today, approximately 1,200 health centers operate more than 9,000 service delivery sites that provide care to over 21 million patients across the country.  I am frankly in awe of the great work that these community health centers provide, especially to the Latino and other underserved communities. These centers are a lifeline for the uninsured, providing quality care, with the dignity and respect people deserve, and in a way that takes into account the challenges that they face in their lives.

Consider Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic (LBUCC) in Dallas, Texas and how it demonstrates the ways a community health center can really impact lives. With over 40 years of work in the community, LBUCC serves 26,000 people each year, 93% of whom are Hispanic and 70% of its Hispanic population is  uninsured. At LBUCC no one is ever turned away because of inability to pay.  For over 45 years, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has supported these centers in order to provide access to culturally competent primary and preventive health care  in the communities that need them most.

Access to primary care positively impacts Latino families many of whom use community health centers as their primary care medical home. In fact, one-in-three community health center patients is Latino. This means that community health centers are vital assets in the effort to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in health care.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are not just expanding access to health insurance; we are also expanding access to high-quality care by strengthening health centers in communities across America. The Affordable Care Act includes $11 billion to strengthen and grow our Community Health Centers, including supporting primary care services, establishing new sites and renovating existing health centers. On Tuesday, the Vice President announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will soon issue a $50 million funding opportunity to help Community Health Centers establish or expand mental health and substance use disorder services. This investment will help meet another important community need.  And last month, HHS announced $150 million in new Affordable Care Act awards to support more than 230 new health center sites around the country.

Health centers are also an integral source of local employment and economic growth in many communities. Total health center employment is more than 148,000 individuals nationwide, and health centers added more than 35,000 jobs over the last four years including physicians, nurses and behavioral health staff.

At a time when we are focused on making sure as many Americans as possible know about the new health care options they can sign up for through the federal and state Marketplaces, it is also critical to make sure we are boosting access to quality health care services. Supporting our community health centers is just one way the Affordable Care Act is making our health care system stronger.

To learn more about how the law is improving health care for millions of Americans nationwide, visit

Cecilia Muñoz is the Director of the Domestic Policy Council