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The impact of funding for federally qualified health centers on utilization and emergency department visits in Massachusetts

Catherine Myong, Peter Hull, Mary Price, John Hsu, Joseph Newhouse and Vicki Fung

PLOS ONE, 2020, vol. 15, issue 12, 1-14

Abstract: Importance: Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) receive federal funding to serve medically underserved areas and provide a range of services including comprehensive primary care, enabling services, and behavioral health care. Greater funding for FQHCs could increase the local availability of clinic-based care and help reduce more costly resource use, such as emergency department visits (ED). Objective: To examine the impact of funding increases for FQHCs after the ACA on the use of FQHCs and EDs. Methods: Retrospective study using the Massachusetts All Payer Claims Database (APCD) 2010–2013 that included APCD enrollees in 559 Massachusetts ZIP codes (N = 6,173,563 in 2010). We calculated shift-share predictions of changes in FQHC funding at the ZIP code-level for FQHCs that received Community Health Center funds in any year, 2010–13 (N = 31). Outcomes were the number of ZIP code enrollees with visits to FQHCs and EDs, overall and for emergent and non-emergent diagnoses. Results: In 2010, 4% of study subjects visited a FQHC, and they were more likely to be younger, have Medicaid, and live in low-income areas. We found that a standard deviation increase in prior year FQHC funding (+31 percentage point (pp)) at the ZIP code level was associated with a 2.3pp (95% CI 0.7pp to 3.8pp) increase in enrollees with FQHC visits and a 1.3pp (95% CI -2.3pp to -0.3pp) decrease in enrollees with non-emergent ED visits, but no significant change in emergent ED visits (0.3pp, 95% CI -0.8pp to 1.4pp). Conclusions: We found that areas exposed to greater FQHC funding increases had more growth in the number of enrollees seen by FQHCs and greater reductions in ED visits for non-emergent conditions. Investment in FQHCs could be a promising approach to increase access to care for underserved populations and reduce costly ED visits, especially for primary care treatable or non-emergent conditions.

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0243279

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