In 2008, shortly before Bush left office, the NY Times looked back at his role in increasing access to these centers:
As governor of Texas, Bush came to admire the missionary zeal and cost-efficiency of the not-for-profit community health centers, which qualify for federal operating grants by being located in designated underserved areas and treating patients regardless of their ability to pay. He pledged support for the program while campaigning for president in 2000 on a platform of "compassionate conservatism."
In Bush's first year in office, he proposed to open or expand 1,200 clinics over five years (mission accomplished) and to double the number of patients served (the increase has ended up closer to 60 percent). With the health centers now serving more than 16 million patients at 7,354 sites, the expansion has been the largest since the program's origins in President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, federal officials said.
"They're an integral part of a health care system because they provide care for the low-income, for the newly arrived, and they take the pressure off of our hospital emergency rooms," Bush said last year while touring a clinic in Omaha, Nebraska.
With federal encouragement, the centers have made a major push this decade to expand dental and mental health services, open on-site pharmacies, extend hours to nights and weekends and accommodate recent immigrants - legal and otherwise - by employing bilingual staff. More than a third of patients are now Hispanic, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers.
President Obama further expanded this program as part of the health care reform package, to the point where community health centers may soon be serving 30 million people a year.
A lot of people worried that the quality of care in these community centers, which primarily serve the poor and the marginal, would be lower than the quality of care from doctors in private practices.
But a new study just published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that the quality of care is actually higher in these federally funded, not-for-profit community health centers than in private practices:
The research team examined over 30,000 ambulatory care visits to assess quality measures [...]
The difference in health care quality across the two settings was profound: CHCs provide much better primary care than do private practice doctors. Of the 18 quality measures examined, CHCs were superior on 11, equal on 6 and inferior on 1. When the researchers adjusted the findings for difference in patient characteristics, private sector care was not superior in any respect, and was on most indexes significantly worse.
Here's a program that both Republican and Democratic presidents saw the value of, and dedicated resources to expanding. It appears to be a real success. This is what we need more of.