By Eileen Howard Boone, President, CVS Caremark Charitable Trust; Malvise A. Scott, Senior Vice President for Programs and Planning, National Association of Community Health Centers
This week marks National Public Health Week, a time to highlight issues that are important to improving the health of our nation. As we reflect on the state of the nation's health and the recent news of 7.1 million people enrolling under the Affordable Care Act, it is vital that we continue to make strides to increase access to health care services, especially for underserved populations, as we look to improve community health nationwide.
Even as changes in our health care system qualify millions of more people for health coverage, it remains a challenge for many to have access to care in their local communities. In fact, the National Association of Community Health Centers' recently released its "Access Is the Answer" report which reveals that even as millions of Americans enroll under the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 62 million people nationwide remain without access to a primary health care physician. That's enough to fill every pro football stadium in the U.S. 31 times. And, this gap in health services is expected to widen.
Today, community health centers operate in more than 9,000 locations and serve 22 million patients nationwide. The Affordable Care Act provides $11 billion to expand the reach of health centers so that more people have affordable options for primary health care. Yet, as more Americans realize the promise of insurance coverage, they are also likely to experience the realities of supply and demand. Access is more than just having an insurance card. It is more than getting care in an emergency room. Access is having a regular, reliable source of quality preventive and primary health care. Unfortunately, too many uninsured -- and even insured -- Americans have inadequate access to primary care at a time when demand for it is escalating. Additionally, there are health care facilities like Free & Charitable clinics that do not receive government support and are facing an increase in patients requiring health services as well. As even more Americans look to local health organizations as a resource for quality care in the coming years, the demand for local health services continues to increase.
How do we bridge the gap between patient demand and access to local health care services, especially for underserved populations?
National organizations such as the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC), the School-Based Health Alliance and NACHC -- work every day to provide much-needed access to health care for underserved populations and are committed to serving adults and children in their local communities by providing primary care and a variety of health care services, including immunizations, annual physicals, eye exams and dental screenings in schools and access to health care models that help manage and prevent chronic diseases.
As we recognize National Public Health Week, supporting increased access to health care for all is more important now than ever before. To learn more about how you can get involved in National Public Health Week and promote community health across the nation, visit http://www.nphw.org/.
CVS Caremark's foundation -- the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust -- has invested millions of dollars in access to health care for underserved populations. In partnership with the National Association of Community Health Center, the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics and the School-Based Health Alliance, the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust has awarded nearly 70 grants to health organizations across the country. Through these partnerships, more people nationwide will have the opportunity to benefit from health services in their local communities that can create better health outcomes.