The Affordable Care Act upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last week stands to be a major boon for the more than 1,120 community health centers across the country, including the Venice Family Clinic, that will receive about $1.1 billion allocated by the health care reform law to create and expand medical access for the poor.
The Venice Family Clinic, which is the largest free medical clinic in the country, received a $975,000 grant in mid-June under the health care reform act, which is better known as Obamacare. The clinic will use the money to expand services to an additional 4,000 poor and uninsured men, women and children on the Westside, said Elizabeth Benson Forer, executive director of the clinic. The grant covers an 18-month period and will be followed by annual grants of $650,000. It will cover the clinic's main facility at 604 Rose Ave., the Robert Levine Family Health Center at 905 Venice Blvd. and the in Santa Monica.
The Venice Family Clinic is among more than 1,120 community health centers nationwide, and more than 100 in California, eligible for federal funding to expand services and access as part of the Affordable Care Act. The health centers, which are often the only source of primary care for the poor in their community, are an integral part of the Affordable Care Act.
"Community health centers could potentially benefit in the next five to 10 years with federal money being available for new community clinics," said Dylan Roby, an assistant professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The health care reform law frequently references community health centers and provides various types of funding for construction, expansion and improving access for patients, Roby said. Some of the grant programs focus on developing new networks among medical schools and local providers to help patients navigate the shifting healthcare landscape, while another provision will allow community health centers to be involved in residency training of doctors.
"There will be a lot of new, lower income patients insured through Medicaid or the state exchange and the goal is to get health care close to where people live," Roby said.
Most community health centers rely on grants for about 25 percent of their operating costs, with donations accounting for another 25 percent and roughly 50 percent coming from billings for Medicaid and third-party insurance reimbursements, Roby said.
"Now that we are moving to an insured world, it remains to be seen if community health centers will remain the anchor for uninsured or if they will diversify with more insured patients coming in," Roby said.
The Venice Family Clinic is hopeful that it will be able to receive additional funds through the Affordable Care Act when they become available to expand services in Santa Monica and Mar Vista, Forer said.
The Venice Family Clinic since 1995 has received about $34.7 million in grants from the federal government for a variety of programs and services ranging from HIV awareness and treatment to early-education programs for children. The clinic has an annual operating budget of about $20 million.
The clinic was founded in 1970 by physicians Phillip Rossman and Mayer B. Davidson and has expanded to eight sites in Venice, Santa Monica, Mar Vista and Culver City. The clinic serves about 25,000 patients primarily from the Westside annually and 97 percent are poor and nearly 75 percent lack insurance.
Many of the clinic's patients will have insurance for the first time and will have a way to pay for their care, Forer said.
"If someone needs specialty care they won't end up bankrupt," she said. "Someone with a low income who needs diagnostic tests can run up large bills they can never really afford to pay off and that won't happen to them anymore."
Community health centers such as the Venice Family Clinic will need to focus on obtaining grant funding and then joining the new network of accountable health care, Roby said. With a wave of newly insured patients expected by 2019, the clinics must be able to attract patients, provide health care and get reimbursed for their services, he said.
The Venice Family Clinic, which receives widespread community support during its annual Venice Art Walk & Auctions and holiday fundraising efforts, will continue to rely on support from private donors, Forer said. The clinic will remain a place for those with no insurance or no place else to turn, including the homeless and mentally ill, and will accept all types of insurance, including some that don't completely cover the cost of care, Forer said.