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Maine's Community Health Centers Eyeing Obamacare's Fate

April 11, 2012

AUGUSTA, Maine - As the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the 2010 Affordable Care Act - which even President Obama now is calling "Obamacare" - Maine's community health centers are watching closely.

Maine has 19 of these nonprofit primary-care centers, operating on 60 sites. Regardless of the fate of the health-care reform law, these centers say they'll continue to stress preventive care and serve some of the state's neediest populations, strengthening Maine's safety net.

Kevin Lewis, chief executive officer of the Maine Primary Care Association, explains.

"It's about how we look at our state and how we look after each other, and community health centers do a phenomenal job."

Even if the Supreme Court finds part or all of the act unconstitutional, a significant amount of federal funding that has already been allocated by Congress will be untouched. Proponents say that could lead to creating new community health centers in Maine, which has seven pending applicants.

Dan Hawkins, policy director of the National Association of Community Health Centers, says some $200 million in federal funds will be available to startups in Maine and nationwide, and they've been waiting 18 months or more for the money.

"Even if the Supreme Court were to strike the entire Affordable Care Act, which I think, by the way, is highly - I mean extremely - unlikely, anything that had been done or funded before then, people would not have to pay those back."

Lewis says a reliance on federal funding heightens the stakes for Maine's health centers as they follow the highly charged, factional debate over health-care reform.

"Maine is one of the few states that doesn't have any direct state support for community health centers, and yet we provide an incredible return on the investment that does come to health centers through Medicaid and Medicare."

Lewis says Maine's health centers are leading many of those nationwide in meeting goals of the government's Healthy People 2020 initiative, including first-trimester prenatal care and treatment of diabetes and hypertension.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME