Federally sponsored health centers, authorized under Section 330 of the Health Centers Consolidation Act of 1996 and reauthorized in 2001, are integral parts of the nation’s health care “safety net” (providers who service underserved and uninsured populations) in both rural and urban regions across the United States. Since their inception as a pilot program by the Federal government in 1964, health centers have been instrumental in delivering primary care medical services to vulnerable populations. They represent a critical public resource for individuals and families who face barriers to securing medical insurance or obtaining care from private providers. With expansions in the FY 2005 budget, there will be well over 800 funded Community and Migrant Health Centers and about 3,700 sites by 2006.
Despite some demographic and organizational differences, in recent years health centers have increasingly banded together to form networks or consortia that seek to provide their members with access to sophisticated information systems, business services, IT expertise, and technical support. This trend, spurred by the onset of Medicaid mandatory managed care and the need for health centers to maintain their competitive status, has produced significant organizational and operational changes, including changes in how health centers approach IT. In particular, several grant programs sponsored by the BPHC, described below, have encouraged network development.