What is a Health Center?

Health centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations that deliver comprehensive, culturally competent, high-quality primary health care services to the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families, including people experiencing homelessness, agricultural workers, residents of public housing, and veterans.

Health centers integrate access to pharmacy, mental health, substance use disorder, and oral health services in areas where economic, geographic, or cultural barriers limit access to affordable health care. By emphasizing coordinated care management of patients with multiple health care needs and the use of key quality improvement practices, including health information technology, health centers reduce health disparities.

Health Center Fundamentals

  • Deliver comprehensive, culturally competent, high quality primary health care, as well as supportive services such as health education, translation, and transportation.
  • Provide services regardless of patients’ ability to pay and charge for services on a sliding fee scale.
  • Develop systems of patient-centered and integrated care that respond to the unique needs of diverse medically underserved areas and populations.
  • Private non-profit or public entities, including tribal and faith-based organizations, that operate under the direction of a patient-majority governing board.
  • Meet requirements regarding administrative, clinical, and financial operations.

How the Health Center Program Works

Health centers receive Health Center Program federal grant funding to improve the health of underserved and vulnerable populations. Some health centers receive funding to focus on special populations, including individuals and families experiencing homelessness, migratory and seasonal agricultural workers, and residents of public housing. There are also health centers that meet all Health Center Program requirements but do not receive federal award funding. These are called Health Center Program look-alikes. The majority of health centers’ operating funds come from Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance, patient fees, and other resources.

Health centers leverage a variety of other related programs. All health centers, including look-alikes, gain access to:

Health centers that receive federal grant funding may also gain access to medical malpractice coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and some health centers receive federal loan guarantees for capital improvements.

Related Resources

Date Last Reviewed:  August 2021