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.