9 Questions with an FQHC Employee
Planned Parenthood is facing a national battle over defunding. They currently receive over half a billion dollars a year from taxpayers and because they are the nation’s largest abortion vendor, that money will hopefully be redirected to Federally Qualified Health Centers by Congress, whose constituents are adamantly opposed to taxpayer funding of abortion.
But what exactly is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC)? What do they do, where are they located, who do they serve? SFLA has a great video concisely explaining what an FQHC is but perhaps even better, an employee of an FQHC in Arizona agreed to answer some questions for us on FQHCs.
Mallory has worked for an FQHC in Arizona for the past three-and-a-half years. She started as a receptionist and now works in the billing department.
What is an FHQC and what was your position there?
Mallory: Federally Qualified Health Centers are geared towards providing quality, affordable care to patients with very limited access to health care, usually this is a primary care practice. With the high cost of health care, many patients who don’t have insurance simply can’t afford to see a primary care physician, but that’s where an FQHC comes into play.
These medical offices offer a sliding fee scale (SFS), meaning, if a patient qualifies based on their income and family size, they could see a physician at a significantly discounted rate.
These clinics do not turn patients away for an inability to pay for services, payment plans can be arranged and reasonable fees make it possible for low-income patients to afford. FQHCs see patients who have insurance too! These are medical practices who want to make the community better, that means serving everyone.
In my community, our providers have built a reputation of quality care, patients who have insurance choose our clinics so that they can see these providers. Our FQHC works with hundreds of commercial insurance carriers.
I started working at my local FQHC over three years ago, I started as a receptionist. I would help patients make appointments, make sure they kept in touch with their physician and help them apply for the discounted program (sliding fee scale). In my clinic, if a patient qualified for the SFS they would receive discounted services to see a medical provider, an OBGYN provider, a dental provider, have labs drawn and they’d have discounts in our pharmacy for prescription medicines.
Currently I am a billing specialist. My main role in billing is to make sure that invoices go to the grants properly and that patients who should have services paid for by a grant get their services paid for by that grant. There are additional grants within FQHCs for low income patients who need services like well woman exams, breast exams, radiology screenings and assistance managing HIV/AIDS. These services are covered in full by grants if a patient qualifies.
What kind of Healthcare does an FQHC provide? What don’t they provide?Mallory: This depends on what your guidelines and contract state in order to keep the federal funding needed to serve your community. All FQHCs must provide primary care and must never turn a patient away for an inability to pay.
The FQHC that I work for provides a broad spectrum of care for all ages and genders. The largest part of our clinics is primary care. This would be your routine checkups and health management. Our primary care physicians will see a patient when they’re ill or have any kind of health concern. We also have pediatricians who provide checkups and vaccinations for newborns to 18-year-olds.
We have OBGYN (obstetrician and gynecology) providers who do well-woman checkups, pap smears and prenatal care. Our OB department even offers ultrasounds! The FQHC I work for offers dental care too, they do routine exams, cleanings, fillings, extractions, any service a dental office usually provides. We have pharmacies in several of our clinics as well, the pharmacy carries a full stock of medications just like any other pharmacy would.
FQHCs generally don’t provide specialty care such as neurology, cardiology, pulmonology, rheumatology or services of that nature. FQHCs are also not allowed to perform abortions on their patients either.
Where are most FQHCs located? Are they easy to find?
Mallory: FQHCs can be found in every state in America, both in rural and urban areas. Finding them is easy, just takes a quick search online. Since the goal of an FQHC is to provide quality affordable care to patients with limited access to it, you can find even find one in small towns.
In Arizona, our cities and towns are spread pretty far apart, you can travel for hours without seeing anything but wilderness. So, usually, you’ll find an FQHC in rural towns with low populations and a limited selection of medical offices. Patients who live in these small communities don’t have to travel far in order to get help maintaining good health.
The FQHC I work for is always looking to expand in rural communities with few choices for care. It’s difficult to pin-point a trend for locations of FQHCs but I’m sure that if the funding for these facilities expanded, more FQHCs would pop to serve even more communities.
Do FQHCs take insurance? What if a patient doesn’t have insurance?
Mallory: Yes! FQHCs work with hundreds of insurance plans, commercial, Medicare and Medicaid. Each insurance plan is different, so it’s always best to check directly with your insurance carrier to find out if the office you want to be seen at is in your plan’s network.
If a patient doesn’t have insurance, then an FQHC employee will request demographic information about the patient and their family members in order to find out if they qualify for a discount called the sliding fee scale. This is based on the patient’s family size and on the combined family income. If the patient is between 0 and 200% of the poverty line, they would qualify for the discount.
Lots of FQHCs also offer help applying for state Medicaid insurance too. FQHCs do everything they can to make sure that every person can have access to great medical care with or without insurance.
What are the misconceptions about FQHCs?
Mallory: Patients who have insurance often think that they won’t be able to make an appointment at an FQHC because they have insurance but this is not the case. An FQHC is a place where anyone can receive health care.
Many patients also believe that because an FQHC offers such drastically discounted services that the quality of their care is diminished but this is also untrue. Many highly-decorated doctors, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners and other medical staff are excited to work for an FQHC because they believe in the mission to provide excellent care to all patients.
I’ve met medical providers who wouldn’t want to work for any other kind of practice. You can see the difference that these services make in patient’s lives, it’s easy to feel good about the work you do because you’re actually helping. Providers build relationships with their patients based on quality care and long-term goals, we want to see patients thrive and grow and live strong healthy lives!
Do FQHCs provide abortions?
Mallory: Federally qualified health centers do not provide abortions. Women may be prescribed birth control after an examination by their physician. But abortion is not a service that can be obtained at an FQHC.
Is it easy to get an appointment at an FQHC, are the waits typically long?
Mallory: It is quite easy to obtain an appointment at an FQHC. Wait times will vary from clinic to clinic and physician to physician, but usually appointments will be available within the same week.
Some FQHC facilities even offer urgent care where patients can be seen on a walk-in basis. At the clinic I work in, we are always looking for ways to help physicians to be more available to their patients. Calling your local FQHC in advance to make an appointment is always a good idea.
Planned Parenthood gets over $500 million a year in tax dollars and the legislation in Congress that would defund them would redirect that money to FQHCs. What would that mean for FQHCs?
Mallory: I work for an FQHC that has several clinics in different towns so if we were granted more funding, it would be possible to open more clinics to serve more communities.
FQHCs are in high demand seeing thousands of patients each month. Expanding clinics to serve an even larger population of people will only benefit communities. More funding for FQHCs would mean healthier children, teens, adults and seniors.
Grant programs could expand to ensure cancer testing for patients who can’t afford it, more patients living with HIV/AIDS would have assistance with their treatment and care, and even more low-income women would be able to have their well-woman exams completely covered. If FQHCs receive more funding, communities as a whole would be healthier!
How have you seen FQHCs help women?
Mallory: I have seen women directly benefit from assistance at an FQHC in many ways. Women feel empowered at an FQHC by having access to affordable health care right in their own community for themselves and for their families. FQHCs provide well-woman exams, birth control and other preventative services. The clinic I work for offers lactation consulting and free at-home visits to check on home safety and the growth and development of infants and children.
I first came into the FQHC that I now work for as a patient. I did not have insurance at the time and I qualified for the sliding fee scale. I was able to help my husband receive the care he needed by a doctor that he trusted and who actually cared about what happened to him. A social worker from the clinic kept in close contact with me to check on my emotional health as I dealt with taking care of my very ill husband. I was proud to start working for this community health center knowing personally what a difference this place could make in someone’s life.
People who work for an FQHC look for all the possible ways they can positively impact a patient’s life. We look at needs not being met and do our best to bridge the gap. Federally qualified health centers look at people as a whole. This is what sets FQHCs apart from Planned Parenthood. This is what benefits women. FQHCs can help treat a woman’s whole body.
When women feel empowered in their health, they thrive, their families thrive and our communities thrive. I am proud to be a woman working at a federally qualified health center that encourages healthy living and provides quality affordable healthcare not only to women, but to men, children and the elderly.
The growth of FQHCs would greatly benefit our country. If Planned Parenthood is federally defunded and those funds are reallocated to FQHCs, women would not lose access to their healthcare, they would in fact gain greater access to it.