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Healthy Students, are Better Students


w10_healthstudentThe recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, P.L.111-148, promises to make far-reaching changes to our current health care system. But the law’s benefits may go well beyond improvements to care and savings to consumers. At least one provision in the law could help improve academic outcomes for low-income students by providing much-needed health services at school.

Health Reform Bill Gives a Boost to School-Based Health Centers

The law for the first time creates federal grant programs to fund the expansion and support of school-based health centers, or SBHCs. School-based health centers provide free, comprehensive health services to students during school hours, including primary care, mental health, dental, vision, and nutrition services. The centers are typically located in medically underserved communities—almost a third in rural areas—and the grant program would give preference to SBHCs that serve large populations of children eligible for state Medicaid or children’s health insurance plans. Students in most schools have sporadic access to a school nurse, but students at or near SHBC schools can use the center for most of their health care needs.

There are currently about 2,000 SBHCs in the United States, but advocates such as the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care estimate that many more clinics are needed to serve students who are uninsured or living in underserved areas. One grant program, authorized under section 4101(a) of the health reform bill, would provide $200 million for SBHC facility costs. A second program, authorized under Section 4101(b) but with no funds yet appropriated, would cover operation costs of existing SBHCs.

The bill’s expansion of SBHCs reflects a growing recognition of the strength of the integrated services model that community schools utilize. Community schools address students’ “nonacademic” needs such as health care, social services, and parent education, while also providing a strong academic program. They co-locate services at the school building, which allows them to combat the damaging effects of poverty on student learning and strengthen students’ connection to the school. School-based health centers have long operated as a key component of successful community schools, and the new health care bill will undoubtedly help support new and existing programs.

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