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TIM JOHNSON: Community health centers play a crucial role

By Sen. Tim Johnson

Community health centers play a crucial role in providing South Dakotans with high-quality health care. In 2012, CHC treated 56,000 patients in more than 200,000 visits to their clinics. This includes 12,000 patients who received dental care and 20,000 patients who do not have health insurance. There are six primary clinics across South Dakota and each of them has several satellite facilities.

I recently toured the De Smet Community Health Center to see first hand the kind of quality care these facilities provide, and was very impressed. CHCs are well known for providing first-rate primary health care in medically underserved communities. Education about health care programs is part of CHCs' mission, too. In fact, CHCs have a history of providing eligibility information and enrollment assistance to people for Medicaid and the federal Children's Health Insurance Program.

Now community health centers are poised to expand their role. Under the Affordable Care Act, uninsured South Dakotans will be able to purchase health insurance through a new federally facilitated marketplace, beginning on Oct. 1. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is setting up the Health Insurance Marketplace with state oversight of the health insurance companies. Companies offering health insurance under the marketplace include Avera Health, Sanford Health and DAKOTACARE.

Community health centers will play an important part in implementing the new Health Insurance Marketplace in South Dakota. With funding assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services, CHCs will be conducting outreach, education and enrollment to help South Dakotans access health insurance coverage.

To carry out this new and expanded role, designated staff at CHCs are undergoing training to become specialized certified application counselors. These counselors will provide consumers with help in understanding the new health insurance options available to them. They will also provide assistance to individuals to actually sign up for health insurance coverage.

Additionally, CHCs will be able to help individuals understand what financial assistance they may qualify for to make health insurance coverage more affordable. This financial assistance includes tax credits for health insurance premiums and cost-sharing subsidies to reduce consumers' out-of-pocket spending for health care. Thousands of people who are uninsured, self-employed or not offered health insurance through their employers will be able to utilize the new Health Insurance Marketplace in South Dakota with guidance from CHC counselors.

I am excited about the expanded responsibilities for CHCs in the state's health system. They have proven themselves in delivering high-quality health care and helping people understand federal health programs. You can find out more about CHCs at I also encourage you to explore the new Health Insurance Marketplace at

I welcome South Dakota's community health centers to their new role in helping the uninsured receive good health coverage under the Affordable Care Act's new Health Insurance Marketplace.