Get reimbursed for COVID-19 testing and treatment of uninsured individuals.     Learn more »

Secretary Applauds Health Center "Pioneers"

HHS Secretary Alex AzarSpeaking before the largest gath­er­ing in the 47-year history of the National Association of Community Health Centers, HHS Secretary Alex Azar told a ballroom audience of some 2,500 that "“We see you not just as vital partners in our movement toward a health system that delivers quality, affordable care for all Americans, we see you as pioneers in this value effort already.”

"It is remarkable to think how far health centers have come over the last five decades. What started as two health centers -- one in Mississippi and one in Massachusetts -- has become a nationwide network of more than 1,400 grantees operating more than 11,000 health care delivery sites," said HRSA Administrator Dr. George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D., who spoke at the conference general session. He thanked the nation's community health center workers, noting that many of today's non-profit health centers started in garages or in a single rented room. 

"The commitment and the dedication of these individuals is unbelievable," he said, adding that "each story is unique, and reminds me that health centers are a lifeline in their communities. No matter what state they are in, or what part of the country, health centers make a difference in peoples' lives."

Community health centers play an important role in transforming the health system into one that pays for outcomes rather than procedures, HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II told health center board members and other leaders last Friday.

The number of patients served by health centers rose from 10.3 million to 25.9 million from 2001 to 2016 --151 percent increase -- and health centers are well positioned to move toward value-based payments instead of paying for procedures, Azar said.

"We want to lay down bold new rules of the road, build a system that provides better value to patients, and make real progress on this journey over the next several years," he said.

The Secretary also presented the Department's priorities, which include numerous areas that touch on HRSA's work. These include giving patients greater access to their medical records and improving interoperability in health information technology, which makes it easier to move records from one provider to another. 

Another priority area is better price transparency in the medical system.  Azar noted that such transparency is already available in community health centers, but lacking among many other providers.

HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D.

Additional priorities include reducing the regulatory burden on medical providers and developing experimental models in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to drive value and quality throughout the entire health care system.

Azar added that telehealth is an area where community health centers have been leaders, and said HHS plans to keep payment policies up to date with those innovations.

Also, the Secretary noted that Congress increased funding to combat the opioid epidemic, and praised health centers' response to the crisis.

"Health centers have rapidly adapted to the challenge of opioid addiction, becoming hubs for connecting patients to treatment and wraparound recovery services," he said.

HRSA Administrator George Sigounas lauded the work of the people who staff community health centers.  "The commitment and the work of these individuals is unbelievable," he said.

Sigounas enumerated HRSA's priorities of addressing the opioid epidemic, improving mental health and controlling chronic diseases. He also praised health centers for their pioneering work in telehealth, noting that more than half of them are either using it already or actively exploring the possibility.

Of those centers that already use telehealth, almost half have used it to expand availability of mental health services, he said.

Several other HRSA leaders also addresssed the conference, including James Macrae, associate administrator of the Bureau of Primary Health Care, who thanked the dozens of HRSA-supported health centers that rose to the challenges of the worst hurricane season in recent memory to help their communities recover, calling them "true heroes."

Learn more about HRSA's Health Center Program.

Health Centers At-A-Glance
Nearly 26 million people -- 1 in 12 across the U.S. -- rely on a HRSA-funded health center for care.

Date Last Reviewed:  March 2018