Geographic access to federally qualified health centers before and after the affordable care act

BMC Health Serv Res. 2022 Mar 23;22(1):385. doi: 10.1186/s12913-022-07685-0.


Background: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) increased funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). We defined FQHC service areas based on patient use and examined the characteristics of areas that gained FQHC access post-ACA.

Methods: We defined FQHC service areas using total patient counts by ZIP code from the Uniform Data System (UDS) and compared this approach with existing methods. We then compared the characteristics of ZIP codes included in Medically Underserved Areas/Populations (MUA/Ps) that gained access vs. MUA/P ZIP codes that did not gain access to FQHCs between 2011-15.

Results: FQHC service areas based on UDS data vs. Primary Care Service Areas or counties included a higher percentage of each FQHC's patients (86% vs. 49% and 71%) and ZIP codes with greater use of FQHCs among low-income residents (29% vs. 22% and 22%), on average. MUA/Ps that gained FQHC access 2011-2015 included more poor, uninsured, publicly insured, and foreign-born residents than underserved areas that did not gain access, but were less likely to be rural (p < .05).

Conclusions: Measures of actual patient use provide a promising method of assessing FQHC service areas and access. Post-ACA funding, the FQHC program expanded access into areas that were more likely to have higher rates of poverty and uninsurance, which could help address disparities in access to care. Rural areas were less likely to gain access to FQHCs, underscoring the persistent challenges of providing care in these areas.

Keywords: Access to care; Health disparities; Primary care safety net; Rural health; Underserved populations.

MeSH terms

  • Fitness Centers*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Medically Underserved Area
  • Medically Uninsured
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act*
  • United States