NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Changing How Millions of Americans Get Health Care

January 8, 2004

Around the country, government-funded community clinics that normally tend to the poor are trying to attract more paying patients to help them cover their expenses, says the Washington Post.

Community clinics generally operate on a pay-if-you-can basis -- those who are poor often pay nothing or a heavily subsidized amount. However, changes are taking place:

  • A five-year initiative by President Bush calls for the opening of 645 more health centers and the expansion of 555 others nationwide by 2006, with a goal of increasing the number of patients served from 10 million to 16 million.
  • In Texas, several clinics developed programs geared toward managing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease; the programs were so successful that privately insured patients showed up.
  • Some clinics in Florida are offering people a paperless, electronic record of their health visits -- information that will eventually be accessible to patients on line; that is likely to appeal to Internet users, who are likely to be employed and insured.
  • Florida officials also target both the very poor and those with insurance by putting clinics in highly visible places, such as strip malls; in addition they offer an immunization program for senior citizens that draws entire families to the clinics.

Many clinics are hesitant to admit they are marketing to the paying public, since is contrary to their central purpose of serving the poor. But the trend could help protect clinics that serve migrant farm workers, the homeless or those living in remote rural areas. It also could signal a shift in how millions of Americans get health care.

Source: Shannon Dininny, "Community Clinics Seek Insured Patients," Washington Post, December 24, 2003.


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