Everyone complains about waste and fraud when it comes to federal spending, but this past week the government did something that could actually save us money – while making our neighbors healthier.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded 16 of Florida’s Community Health Centers a total of $4.6 million in one-time supplemental funding for oral health. These 16 health center organizations serve citizens up and down Florida, from South Florida (Miami) to the Panhandle (Pensacola), as well as Central and Southwest Florida and Tampa Bay.
Florida’s Community Health Centers are an investment that actually pays dividends, both in terms of health care and dollars. From 500 locations around the state, they provide health care to over 1.4 million Floridians who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.
The centers serve 15% of the state’s Medicaid population but receive just 2% of the state’s Medicaid funding. That’s important because the population these centers serve are generally less healthy than the rest of us. So when Community Health Centers treat a patient, they’re helping someone who otherwise could very well end up in an emergency room, where the cost would be so much higher. And because they’re poor, we’re the ones who foot the bill.
When most people think of health care for the poor, they probably think about things like hepatitis, HIV, and similar serious diseases. They don’t give much thought at all to dental care. But oral health care is a real problem for those who can’t afford it, often worsening other conditions. The American Dental Association reports that 80% of dental-related ER visits are due to preventable conditions. With this federal boost in funding for early detection and preventative care, the overall cost to the health care system is likely to decrease thanks to fewer ER visits.
“Oral health services continue to be a priority, and these awards will assist community health centers in their efforts to increase access to care in underserved communities throughout Florida,” said Andrew Behrman, President and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers. “These funds will be used to upgrade equipment, provide more integration between oral health services and primary care at the health centers, and expand service sites across the state.”
Community health centers provide services to rural and underserved communities – including children, veterans, and uninsured families. According to data from the federal Health Services & Resources Administration, they have seen a rise in dental health visits over the past three years. With this additional funding, they will be able to attack the issue of dental disease before it becomes more serious – and more costly to all of us.
Now children, remember to brush and floss your teeth.