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FL community health centers to get $21M

Florida's community health centers, which offer medical homes for uninsured low-income patients, will receive $21 million under the Affordable Care Act -- the law that state officials are trying to get thrown out.

 The grants, announced today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will enable the centers to expand to serve an estimated 41,000 new patients in Florida.

"This is a big help," said Andrew Behrman, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers. "It's going to make a difference."

The largest award, $5 million, goes to Pinellas County Board of Commissioners. Mary Burrell, a communications manager, said the board had proposed a new clinic for homeless children and families.  More details were not immediately available.

Other organizations receiving funds (rounded off) are:

-- Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami, $4.2 million.

--Family Health Centers of SW Florida in Fort Myers, $3.6 million.

--Brevard Health Alliance in Melbourne, $2.4 million.

--Rural Health Care in Palatka, $967,000.

--Community Health Centers of Pinellas in St. Petersburg, $869,000.

--Camillus Health Concern in Miami, $800,000.

Awards ranging from $135,000 to $500,000 will be given to nine organizations to improve facilities. 

Across the country, community health centers will get more than $728 million in funds.

“For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases,” said HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a news release.

“This investment will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country.”
Centers were able to apply for the grants directly to a federal bureau that supports primary care without having to go through a state agency. Under Gov. Rick Scott, who became involved in politics via opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Florida officials have turned down millions of dollars in federal funds that were tied to the act.

Florida is the lead plaintiff in a suit by 26 states to overturn the act, arguing that its clause requiring all Americans to obtain health coverage is unconstitutional. Florida also cited the act's requirement that states expand Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that covers low-income children, pregnant women, frail elderly and the disabled.

The Supreme Court, which heard arguments in March, is expected to issue a ruling in late June. If the entire act is thrown out, it remains unclear what will happen to programs that were funded as part of its passage. 

--Editor Carol Gentry contributed to this report. She can be reached at 727-410-3266 orby e-mail.

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.