A team of researchers used Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data to evaluate the differences in healthcare costs of those patients receiving care at community health centers and non-CHC providers nationwide. The researchers augmented the MEPS data with North Carolina Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data to come up with an analysis in that state.
“On average, total annual healthcare spending for North Carolina patients served by health centers was 62% less than for those patients with similar health status and demographic characteristics served in other (North Carolina) ambulatory care settings,” the report authors said. “When ambulatory care costs alone are considered, health centers were able to achieve similarly impressive results, showing per-patient cost savings of $1,211 for ambulatory services” or 56% lower than for those patients in nonambulatory care settings.
Savings at the national level mirrored those in North Carolina, the researchers concluded.
A host of factors contribute to the cost advantages enjoyed by community health centers, the authors determined. They include salaried physicians not being financially incentivized to drive healthcare costs, federal price discounts enjoyed by community health center patients on prescription drugs, more comprehensive services provided by the centers than in noncenter care venues, and the observation that health center governance structures require that the majority of board members are health center users, “which creates a level of community accountability that is unmatched in other practice settings,” the authors said.