Health Reform Benchmarks Linked to FQHCs

Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) already have shown some of the results pursued by the Affordable Care Act, according to a study released this week by the California Primary Care Association.

The CPCA commissioned researchers to compare high-cost factors, such as hospital stays and emergency department use, as well as total cost of care, between FQHCs and non-FQHCs in California.

Some of the findings from John Snow, Inc. Health Services Division, a public health research firm based in Boston, were released Monday and showed enviable differences in FQHC care:

  • FQHCs had roughly 5% lower 30-day hospital readmission rates;
  • Emergency department use was about 18% lower;
  • FQHCs had about 25% fewer hospital inpatient bed days;
  • The rate of multi-day admissions was significantly lower, about 64% lower than non-FQHCs; and
  • FQHC total costs for adults were 37% lower than non-FQHCs.

“What we’ve been saying all along is that primary care is more cost-effective and FQHCs keep people out of hospitals,” said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, the CEO of CPCA. “And overall, that’s what the study shows.”

Studies have been done across the country with similar results, Castellano-Garcia said — but not in this state, and that’s why this particular study carries such import, she said.

“It’s very powerful to have this data come out of California,” Castellano-Garcia said. “We have been lacking a California-specific study, and this one has been years in the making.”

Castellano-Garcia said the study was commissioned by the CPCA, but it was conducted by an independent, third-party researcher — and the data came straight from a health plan, Partnership HealthPlan of California. She expects to have the study peer-reviewed and published, but said she wanted to get the information in it disclosed now.

“The study confirms what we’ve been saying for years, that providing all the care in one place [as FQHCs do] helps drive down overall costs of care to the system,” Castellano-Garcia said. “It’s affirming decisions made at the federal level, not just in primary care but also in community health centers. It’s a more cost-effective, worthwhile way to go.”

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