WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials this week touted a new round of construction money for community health centers as the latest benefit of the new health care law.
Democrats continue their efforts to highlight portions of the controversial law to win over a still-skeptical public. It's a particularly potent issue with the Supreme Court expected to rule on the law's constitutionality this summer and November's presidential election looming.
The administration announced more than $728 million in grants for 398 health renovation and construction projects nationwide, including a $5 million competitive grant to the Good Neighbor Community Health Center that serves the Columbus, Neb., area. The money will be used to construct a new building for the center, a nonprofit housed within the East Central District Health Department.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who provided the Affordable Health Care Act's deciding vote, said the award is important because the clinic provides care to those who otherwise would go without.
“The Good Neighbor Community Health Center provides an invaluable service in an area of the state designated as ‘medically underserved,'” Nelson said.
The center's executive director, Rebecca Rayman, said her center served 6,000 patients last year and expects to serve an additional 4,645 people a year as a result of the new space.
She said a shortage of space makes it tough to deliver education programs and see patients in a timely manner. There's a four-month wait list for dental care, for example.
Since 2010, she said, the clinic has been forced to pare back services such as dental care because of the influx of pregnant women who sought prenatal care at the clinic after Nebraska ended taxpayer-funded prenatal care for low-income women, including illegal immigrants.
That care was restored by the Legislature in its most recent session, although it doesn't take effect until mid-July.
Many women come to Good Neighbor because the center treats low-income patients regardless of whether they have insurance. The center provided prenatal services to 366 women last year — topping its one-year high of 159. It had served 183 through April 25, putting it on pace for another record.
Women have come from 28 counties, some traveling more than 150 miles, for the services. Rayman said she hopes women will receive care closer to home and that the clinic's numbers will drop again after July.
The clinic could then restore some other services and look forward to expanding with new grant funding.
It now operates in two buildings nestled among industrial plants totaling 21,500 square feet. The new building will have more than 30,000 square feet, a better layout and a more convenient location near Columbus Community Hospital, she said.
The hope is to break ground this fall, with construction over 18 months to two years.
Rayman described community health centers as investments, saying they prevent bigger problems, and bills, down the road.
“We provide care for people and help prevent diabetes or high blood pressure or other problems from being so bad that they would end up in the emergency room,” she said.
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