Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in August that the federal government would award 67 community health center programs in 23 US states and Puerto Rico with grants totaling $28.8 million. REUTERS

The Obama administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Tuesday that the federal government will award 67 community health center programs in 23 US states and Puerto Rico with grants totaling $28.8 million.

The funds, made available by the Affordable Care Act, would help establish new health service delivery sites to care for an additional 286,000 patients, according to health officials.

The grants, announced on Tuesday, are part of $11 billion promised for new and existing health care centers over the next five years.

The money, which was promised in last year's law which overhauled the U.S. healthcare system, is intended to help pay for new sites where people can get medical services regardless of their ability to pay.

Health officials say the grants will support new access points which are new full-time service delivery sites that provide comprehensive primary and preventive health care services.

Such healthcare centers, often include clinics in rural and urban areas and treat people who live far from hospitals, serve 19.5 million patients, about 40 percent of whom have no health insurance.

The centers serve as state-funded hospitals that many people see as a last resort for the uninsured. Ethnic and minority groups make up almost two-thirds of the centers' patients.

“We are making an investment in the health of people and the health of our communities,” said Secretary Sebelius. “These awards demonstrate a commitment to improving and expanding access to quality health care for local communities. We are removing barriers that stand in the way of affordable and accessible primary health services.”

Eligible applicants include public or nonprofit private entities, including tribal, faith-based and community-based organizations who meet health center funding requirements.

Current Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grantees could apply as well as organizations applying for the first time.

“It is fitting that these awards are announced as we celebrate National Health Center Week,” said HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N. “These awardees join the 1,100 current health center grantees that provide affordable community-based primary care to more than 19 million people across the country.”

The HHS received 810 applications for the grants announced on Tuesday, of which 67 winners, and 10 applicants plan to establish new community centers, while others plan to add new service sites to existing centers.

In October 2010, the Obama administration allocated the first $727 million to help fix up community health centers across the country. The money was to go to 143 centers.