ACA spurs hospitals and health centers to work together

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Hospitais dos dentes retos de ACA e centros da saúde a trabalhar junto

por Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | July 25, 2013

Under the health reform law, the public will have more options for affordable primary care where they live and work. The Affordable Care Act provides $11 billion to expand the reach of community health centers so that the newly insured will have a place to go for care. By the same token, health centers are expected to double the number of patients they serve to 40 million by 2015.

Many of the clinics are beginning to prepare for an influx, despite not knowing how many patients will buy on the exchange or enroll in the Medicaid program. In the meantime, primary care staff, as well as workers that will go into communities to educate people about reform, are being hired by community health centers as they brace for new patients.

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NACHC currently estimates that there are 60 million people without access to a primary care provider, and many of them do actually have insurance — just no place to go for care. By creating more "health care homes" where people have access to affordable health care, expenses will go down and a more efficient health care system based on prevention and wellness will emerge, according NACHC's Farber.

It's not all sunshine and lollipops for community health centers, though.

Although they recently received funding, centers are still struggling. In March, more than 5 percent of their base funding met the chopping block under across-the-board U.S. government budget cuts. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, this means 900,000 fewer patients will be served by the centers and 3 million fewer visits will be accommodated this year.

Centers are relying on enrolling patients having some insurance from the ACA. In the meantime, health centers will survive by stitching together grants.

For hospitals, federal payments are being tied to surveys that gauge patient opinions on matters like noise, cleanliness, communication and pain management. The happier the patients, the more cash the hospital rakes in.

Nationwide, about $1 billion in payments will be based on hospitals' patient satisfaction scores and other clinical quality measures, under the health care law. Scores could impact patient retention.

Last month, a report issued by the American Hospital Association said 551 hospitals were acquired by other health systems between 2007 and 2012. This trend may be accelerated by the health law, reducing competition in markets and giving hospitals more leverage to raise prices.

By working together, community health centers and hospitals hope to mitigate funding and enrollment obstacles.

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