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Study: CO Community Health Centers Offer Major Benefits

July 11, 2011

DENVER - A new study finds that Colorado's Community Health Centers can be the key to lowering Medicaid costs and improving health care. The study, conducted by the Colorado Department of Health Care and Financing, says Medicaid clients who use Community Health Centers are a third less likely to have hospital admissions and re-admissions or to visit the emergency room than those with just a private physician. And that means reduced medical costs.

Polly Anderson, policy director of the Colorado Community Health Network, says she's not surprised by the findings.

"It's incredibly exciting and really confirms what we've always known or believed to be true about health centers. It just shows that health centers have better outcomes for Medicaid patients than most other providers."

Anderson says one reason why costs are lower is because Community Health Centers offer a team approach, including doctors, nurse-practioners, RNs and mental health professionals, all under one roof. A third of Medicaid enrollees statewide use Community Health Centers.

Shepard Nevel, vice president of policy and operations at the Colorado Health Foundation, says two of the characteristics of Community Health Centers are quality and cost-effective care.

"We have to spend money wisely, and Community Health Centers, as this research demonstrates once again, are sterling examples of a prudent investment that saves far more money in the intermediate and long term."

Polly Anderson says the "team approach" can quickly help patients. For instance, if a patient is showing symptoms of depression during a medical exam, a mental health consultation can happen during the appointment.

"There are really so many reasons why patients may have special needs. The health center model is really set up around helping people make the most of the health care that they're getting."

The study, published in the July edition of the journal Health Affairs, is at tinyurl.com/4xmzayq.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO