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Tracing their roots to the civil rights movement and the 1960’s War on Poverty, federally qualified health centers play an important role in the U.S. health system. Two physicians, Jack Geiger and Count Gibson of Tufts University, established the first health centers in South Boston and the Mississippi Delta to meet the large unmet needs of people in these poor communities by providing primary care regardless of patient’s ability to pay. By design, these centers were not just providers of medical care to individuals but also worked to improve the overall health of the community.

Fast forward to today – a major goal of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010 is to provide affordable coverage and primary care to more Americans. Many health reform provisions likely will enhance the role of FQHCs in today’s U.S. health care system.

There are more than 1,400 FQHCs throughout the United States of America and, collectively, they serve a significant portion of the population. Most of the care delivered at FQHCs is preventive primacy care, where a patient partners with a provider to develop a team-based approach in the development of a coordinated care plan and wellness goals.

FQHCs must serve an underserved area of population, offer a sliding fee scale, provide comprehensive services, have an ongoing quality assurance program, and have a governing board of directors.