US sends $727 million to community health centers

WASHINGTON Fri Oct 8, 2010 1:05pm EDT

WASHINGTON Oct 8 (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday announced $727 million will go to help fix up community health centers across the country, the first of $11 billion for the centers promised by the U.S. healthcare reform law.

The money will go to 143 community health centers -- which provide services regardless of patients' ability to pay -- in about 40 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, the Health and Human Services department said.

Healthcare reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama in March call for $11 billion in funding over the next five years for the centers, which HHS said currently serve nearly 19 million patients, about 40 percent of whom are uninsured.

Expanding the centers will allow nearly twice as many patients to get care at them, it said.

"Many of these community health centers need more modern space to meet the increasing patient demand for services," Mary Wakefield, who heads HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, said in a statement.

HHS said the centers "deliver preventive and primary care services at more than 7,900 service delivery sites around the country to patients regardless of their ability to pay; charges for services are set according to income."

Under the healthcare law, about 32 million Americans who do not have health insurance eventually are expected to be covered. But several reports predict these newly insured patients will swamp already overwhelmed primary care doctors, specialists and clinics.

On Tuesday the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommended educating and empowering nurses to step in and take on some of the demand, as well. [ID:nN05205412] (Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Vicki Allen)