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Phoenix Forward

Are community health centers government’s best-kept secret?

Person getting checked at clinic.

Need treatment for a health issue but can't afford insurance or the price of a doctor's office visit? No problem. Just visit FindAHealthCenter.hrsa.gov, type in your ZIP code, and make an appointment at one of the community health centers listed near you. With the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act in 2010, there are now more than 1,200 such centers in underserved areas — with 350 more on the way — that cannot refuse treatment to anyone who cannot afford to pay. Here, five things you need to know about community health centers:

1. They're ready to provide care at no cost to you (or close to it).

With a recent influx of $11 billion, these community health centers (officially known as Federally Qualified Health Centers), located in low-income neighborhoods, are poised to treat the underserved with bigger budgets. "Patients either pay nothing or pay on a sliding scale based on their income," explains James Young, PhD, an instructor in the bachelor's in health administration program at the University of Phoenix Detroit Campus and the online master's in health administration program. "There is absolutely no one turned down."

2. They offer one-stop treatment.

Community health centers provide more than basic first aid; they offer the whole gamut of treatments, including primary care, pediatric, gynecology, mental health, pharmacy and oncology, Young says. "In order to qualify as a community health center, the center must provide vertically integrated care, meaning that patients don't go there just for primary care. You can walk in the door, and there will be a physician who can help treat practically any specific ailment."

3. The care is high quality.

Offering higher-quality care than what's available in many doctor's offices, the centers can hire only doctors who are board-certified. As a safety measure, the people serving on the board of one of these facilities are required to receive their own care at that facility, which ensures the quality of care there.

4. They can be a good option for those on Medicaid.

Medicaid is often very cumbersome to obtain, but for those who qualify, community health centers serve as an easy way to enter the system. A community health center is really a portal that a person who doesn't have any health care can walk through — then that patient will walk away with primary care services and enrollment in the Medicaid program. "It's designed to do just that," says Young, who, as CEO of Concordant Healthcare Solutions, has worked for years to eliminate health care disparity and increase health care literacy of underserved people.

5. They're an effective resource with limited exposure.

If they're so amazing, why aren't we hearing more about them? "Unfortunately, community health centers are not allowed to use federal funds to advertise their existence," Young says. "Everyone I talk to has the same reaction — 'Why isn't anybody talking about this?' You have all these people who don't know where to get primary care, and there are all these facilities with outstanding care, and they [can't] advertise to let people know they're available."