T he Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) is a community-based organization that provides comprehensive primary and preventive care to all individuals, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. This can include oral health, behavioral health, and substance abuse services.
FQHCs operate under a consumer Board of Directors governing structure and function under the supervision of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a division of the United States Federal Department of Health and Human Services. FQHCs were originally meant to provide comprehensive health services to the medically underserved, in order to reduce the patient load on hospital emergency rooms.
However, this mission has changed since their inception. FQHCs now target communities with great need, bringing primary healthcare to all underserved populations, including the uninsured, underinsured, and impoverished. FQHCs also target special populations, such as veterans, homeless individuals, residents of Public Housing, and Migrant/Seasonal Farmworkers.
FQHCs provide services to all individuals, regardless of ability to pay, offering a Sliding Fee Scale that provides discounts for services to eligible patients. This scale is Board-approved, and discounts are based on patient income and family size. FQHCs must also comply with Section 330 program requirements, as monitored by HRSA.
In return for meeting all these requirements, FQHCs receive support from the Federal Government in the form of an operational grant, cost-based reimbursement for Medicaid patients, and malpractice coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
FQHCs are also called Community/Migrant Health Centers (C/MHCs), Community Health Centers (CHCs), and 330-Funded Clinics. The government also designates a category of health centers as “FQHC Look-Alikes” (FQHC LALs). These health centers receive cost-based reimbursement for Medicaid patients, but do not receive FTCA coverage or a supporting operational grant.