I recently attended the 2019 National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) Policy and Issues (P&I) in Washington D.C. The energy at this year’s event was buzzing with positivity, as many advocates felt confident that the message is hitting the right hearts and minds, and that long-term stabilization of community health and affordable care will be a legislative priority in this country.

I’m sharing five important themes from the conference, along with some examples of how health centers are making progress on critical issues.

Stabilization through Sustained Funding and Shared Savings

An announcement from George Sigounas, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration generated a lot of excitement: a $200 million dollar funding opportunity will soon be available for health centers to focus on the integration of behavioral health and substance use disorder in primary care. Here’s a link to read more about this exciting news.

The 2019 Issues: Keeping Top of Mind

The key issues at the 2019 P&I Forum were focused on Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and national health centers’ shared goals including reducing infant mortality rates, spending current resources on the opioid epidemic, eradicating HIV, and promoting healthier childhood nutrition and activity to reduce obesity. Health centers across the country are working on these key indicators of national health, with an eye on prevention. From grants to community programs, look for movement on these issues in the upcoming year.  

Community Health Centers are Meeting Patients Where They Are

When talking with other attendees I heard about health centers starting mobile services to better engage with communities and homeless outreach programs. One of the trends that got my attention is the expansion of school-based services. Some of the school-based services that are now available to students include behavioral health, primary care, and providing individualized services to help with issues students may face at home. Some health centers are also offering school-based dentistry programs, and often, these services are expanded to serve the entire family.

Leadership Is Moving from Volume to Value

Community health centers are making headway toward value-based care, whether or not they are a part of an Accountable Care Organization (ACO). Many of the health center leaders that I spoke with said that they’re very interested in taking the next steps to start generating more revenue for what they’re already doing. Health centers are beginning Care Management programs and training Care Managers to get up to speed and help high risk patients.

I also learned that many health centers have integrated behavioral health, dental clinics, and pharmacies to work together at the same location and provide “one-stop-shop” care for their patients. Because prevention is a key focus  (with the goal of keeping patients out of the ER), this “one-stop-shop” approach promotes self advocacy, better health and lower costs—the fundamentals of value-based care.

Sharing the Mission

The two core focuses of the conference this year were 1. reimbursement for services health centers are already doing, and 2. sustainability of funding. Transitioning to value-based care will allow health centers to get reimbursed for the care they are already providing. For example, comprehensive wellness visits and prevention, including head-to-toe healthcare and helping patients navigate their communities to meet their needs that are both health and socially related. Because value-based care is a more sustainable reimbursement model than fee-for-service,transitioning to the model can help health centers control costs and have more access to funds through shared savings.

Throughout the conference I learned so much about the key areas of focus for 2019, and I’m excited to see the ways that community health centers will continue to create programs that improve health in their communities. I believe that more health centers will enter into value-based care and will continue to expand the location and types of services they offer to better serve patients, while improving community health. I’m excited for next year’s P&I Conference to see what progress has been made and how health centers are incorporating value-based care in their communities.

Click here for more information about how Aledade partners with community health centers on value-based care.