Utah's community health centers below national average on 5 of 7 quality measures

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 4:44 p.m. MST

Utah ranks well compared to the rest of the U.S. on percentages of babies born with low birth weight, with the U.S. average being 7.4 percent and Utah's only 4.83 percent, according to a Kaiser Health news analysis of data from the nation's 1,200 community health centers.

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Utah's community health centers in 2011 fell slightly below the nation's average in all services provided except cervical cancer screening, according to an analysis by Kaiser Health News.

Before the federal health care law forks out $11 billion to expand health centers in 2014, Kaiser looked at data 1,200 centers across the nation are required to provide to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration on 11 quality measures.

The data, obtained by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, showed that the South and West didn't perform as well as New England, according to the Kaiser article.

"The differences may partly be explained by higher rates of insurance coverage in New England which make it more likely people will seek care when they need it," the story says. "Those without coverage must pay out of pocket for every visit, even if fees are based on a sliding scale."

Utah ranks well compared to the rest of the nation on percentages of babies born with low birth weight, meaning below 2,500 grams (or about 5.5 pounds), with the U.S. average being 7.4 percent and Utah's only 4.83 percent. The percentage of women screened for cervical cancer was also very slightly above the national average, with Utah's rate being 57.87 percent and the national average 57.8 percent.

However, Utah was lower than the national average on five of seven quality measures: the percentages of people receiving treatment to control diabetes, asthma and blood pressure, and on the percentages of children receiving immunizations and women being given early prenatal care.

The Kaiser Health News article noted that additional difference between various health centers could result in the state's dietary habits, income levels.

"We hope clinics can learn from this information (because) we need a safety net that survives and thrives," said Anthony Wright, an executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group, in the Kaiser article.

Jim Macreae, an HRSA associate administrator, said in the article that this information should help centers motivate themselves to improve and allow the government to know which health centers need support.

At least one group questions the data's usefulness. The National Association of Community Health Centers, a trade group, notes that "the results are not adjusted for patients' health status, or for centers that have high rates of migrants, homeless or uninsured patients," according to the article. "Nonetheless, it said it would work with the government 'to develop a rigorous and transparent system for measurement and improvement.'"

Email: ehong@desnews.com Twitter: @erinhong

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