HRSA-supported health centers provide comprehensive, culturally competent, quality primary health care services to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations. Health centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations that serve populations with limited access to health care. 


What is a Health Center?

Health Center Program Fundamentals

  • Located in or serve a high need community (designated Medically Underserved Area or Population). Find MUAs and MUPs
  • Governed by a community board composed of a majority (51% or more) of health center patients who represent the population served. More about health center governance
  • Provide comprehensive primary health care services as well as supportive services (education, translation and transportation, etc.) that promote access to health care.
  • Provide services available to all with fees adjusted based on ability to pay.
  • Meet other performance and accountability requirementsregarding administrative, clinical, and financial operations.


Types of Health Centers

  • Grant-Supported Federally Qualified Health Centers are public and private non-profit health care organizations that meet certain criteria under the Medicare and Medicaid Programs (respectively, Sections 1861(aa)(4) and 1905(l)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act and receive funds under the Health Center Program (Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act).
  • Non-grant-supported Health Centers are health centers that have been identified by HRSA and certified by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as meeting the definition of “health center” under Section 330 of the PHS Act, although they do not receive grant funding under Section 330. They are referred to as "look-alikes."
  • Outpatient health programs/facilities operated by tribal organizations (under the Indian Self-Determination Act, P.L. 96-638) or urban Indian organizations (under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, P.L. 94-437).


Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike Designation

Public and private non-profit health care organizations may apply for FQHC Look-Alike designation (designation without section 330 funding) at any time. The review process takes about four months. FQHC Look-Alikes must meet the same program requirements as FQHCs that receive section 330 funding and are eligible for many of the same benefits.

Access information regarding FQHC Look-Alike Guidelines and Application, here.


Program Requirements

Health centers are non-profit private or public entities that serve designated medically underserved populations/areas or special medically underserved populations comprised of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, the homeless or residents of public housing. A summary of the key health center program requirements is provided below. For additional information on these requirements, please review:


  1. Needs Assessment: Health center demonstrates and documents the needs of its target population, updating its service area, when appropriate. (Section 330(k)(2) and Section 330(k)(3)(J) of the PHS Act)


  1. Required and Additional Services: Health center provides all required primary, preventive, enabling health services and additional health services as appropriate and necessary, either directly or through established written arrangements and referrals. (Section 330(a) of the PHS Act)

Note: Health centers requesting funding to serve homeless individuals and their families must provide substance abuse services among their required services. (Section 330(h)(2) of the PHS Act)

  1. Staffing Requirement: Health center maintains a core staff as necessary to carry out all required primary, preventive, enabling health services and additional health services as appropriate and necessary, either directly or through established arrangements and referrals. Staff must be appropriately licensed, credentialed, and privileged. Section 330(a)(1), (b)(1)- (2), (k)(3)(C), and (k)(3)(I)  of the PHS Act)
  2. Accessible Hours of Operation/Locations: Health center provides services at times and locations that assure accessibility and meet the needs of the population to be served. (Section 330(k)(3)(A) of the PHS Act)
  3. After Hours Coverage: Health center provides professional coverage for medical emergencies during hours when the center is closed. (Section 330(k)(3)(A) of the PHS Act and 42 CFR Part 51c.102(h)(4))
  4. Hospital Admitting Privileges and Continuum of Care: Health center physicians have admitting privileges at one or more referral hospitals, or other such arrangement to ensure continuity of care. In cases where hospital arrangements (including admitting privileges and membership) are not possible, health center must firmly establish arrangements for hospitalization, discharge planning, and patient tracking. (Section 330(k)(3)(L) of the PHS Act)
  5. Sliding Fee Discounts: Health center has a system in place to determine eligibility for patient discounts adjusted on the basis of the patient’s ability to pay.
    • This system must provide a full discount to individuals and families with annual incomes at or below 100% of the Federal poverty guidelines (only nominal fees may be charged) and for those with incomes between 100% and 200% of poverty, fees must be charged in accordance with a sliding discount policy based on family size and income.*
    • No discounts may be provided to patients with incomes over 200 % of the Federal poverty guidelines.*
    • No patient will be denied health care services due to an individual’s inability to pay for such services by the health center, assuring that any fees or payments required by the center for such services will be reduced or waived.
      (Section 330(k)(3)(G) of the PHS Act, 42 CFR Part 51c.303(f)), and 42 CFR Part 51c.303(u))
  1. Quality Improvement/Assurance Plan: Health center has an ongoing Quality Improvement/Quality Assurance (QI/QA) program that includes clinical services and management, and that maintains the confidentiality of patient records. The QI/QA program must include:
    • a clinical director whose focus of responsibility is to support the quality improvement/assurance program and the provision of high quality patient care;*
    • periodic assessment of the appropriateness of the utilization of services and the quality of services provided or proposed to be provided to individuals served by the health center; and such assessments shall: *
      • be conducted by physicians or by other licensed health professionals under the supervision of physicians;*
      • be based on the systematic collection and evaluation of patient records;* and
      • identify and document the necessity for change in the provision of services by the health center and result in the institution of such change, where indicated* (Section 330(k)(3)(C) of the PHS Act, 45 CFR Part 74.25 (c)(2), (3) and 42 CFR Part 51c.303(c)(1-2))


  1. Key Management Staff: Health center maintains a fully staffed health center management team as appropriate for the size and needs of the center. Prior approval by HRSA of a change in the Project Director/Executive Director/CEO position is required. (Section 330(k)(3)(I) of the PHS Act, 42 CFR Part 51c.303(p) and 45 CFR Part 74.25(c)(2),(3))
  2. Contractual/Affiliation Agreements: Health center exercises appropriate oversight and authority over all contracted services, including assuring that any subrecipient(s) meets Health Center program requirements. (Section 330(k)(3)(I)(ii), 42 CFR Part 51c.303(n), (t)), Section 1861(aa)(4) and Section 1905(l)(2)(B) of the Social Security Act, and 45 CFR Part 74.1(a) (2)))
  3. Collaborative Relationships: Health center makes effort to establish and maintain collaborative relationships with other health care providers, including other health centers, in the service area of the center. The health center secures letter(s) of support from existing health centers (section 330 grantees and Look-Alikes) in the service area or provides an explanation for why such letter(s) of support cannot be obtained. (Section 330(k)(3)(B) of the PHS Act and 42 CFR Part 51c.303(n))
  4. Financial Management and Control Policies: Health center maintains accounting and internal control systems appropriate to the size and complexity of the organization reflecting Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and separates functions appropriate to organizational size to safeguard assets and maintain financial stability. Health center assures an annual independent financial audit is performed in accordance with Federal audit requirements, including submission of a corrective action plan addressing all findings, questioned costs, reportable conditions, and material weaknesses cited in the Audit Report.  (Section 330(k)(3)(D), Section 330(q) of the PHS Act and 45 CFR Parts 74.14,  74.21 and 74.26)  
  5. Billing and Collections: Health center has systems in place to maximize collections and reimbursement for its costs in providing health services, including written billing, credit and collection policies and procedures. (Section 330(k)(3)(F) and (G) of the PHS Act)
  6. Budget: Health center has developed a budget that reflects the costs of operations, expenses, and revenues (including the Federal grant) necessary to accomplish the service delivery plan, including the number of patients to be served. (Section 330(k)(3)(D), Section 330(k)(3)(I)(i), and 45 CFR Part 74.25
  7. Program Data Reporting Systems: Health center has systems which accurately collect and organize data for program reporting and which support management decision making. (Section 330(k)(3)(I)(ii) of the PHS Act)
  8. Scope of Project: Health center maintains its funded scope of project (sites, services, service area, target population, and providers), including any increases based on recent grant awards. (45 CFR Part 74.25)


  1. Board Authority:  Health center governing board maintains appropriate authority to oversee the operations of the center, including:
    • holding monthly meetings;
    • approval of the health center grant application and budget;
    • selection/dismissal and performance evaluation of the health center CEO;
    • selection of services to be provided and the health center hours of operations;
    • measuring and evaluating the organization’s progress in meeting its annual and long-term programmatic and financial goals and developing plans for the long-range viability of the organization by engaging in strategic planning, ongoing review of the organization’s mission and bylaws, evaluating patient satisfaction, and monitoring organizational assets and performance;* and  
    • establishment of general policies for the health center.
      (Section 330(k)(3)(H) of the PHS Act and 42 CFR Part 51c.304)  

Note: In the case of public centers (also referred to as public entities) with co-applicant governing boards, the public center is permitted to retain authority for establishing general policies (fiscal and personnel policies) for the health center. (Section 330(k)(3)(H) of the PHS Act and 42 CFR 51c.304(d)(iii) and (iv))

  1. Board Composition: The health center governing board is composed of individuals, a majority of whom are being served by the center and, this majority as a group, represent the individuals being served by the center in terms of demographic factors such as race, ethnicity, and sex. Specifically:
    • Governing board has at least 9 but no more than 25 members, as appropriate for the complexity of the organization.*
    • The remaining non-consumer members of the board shall be representative of the community in which the center's service area is located and shall be selected for their expertise in community affairs, local government, finance and banking, legal affairs, trade unions, and other commercial and industrial concerns, or social service agencies within the community.*
    • No more than one half (50%) of the non-consumer board members may derive more than 10% of their annual income from the health care industry.*

Note: Upon a showing of good cause the Secretary may waive, for the length of the project period, the patient majority requirement in the case of a health center that receives a grant pursuant to subsection (g), (h), (i), or (p).
(Section 330(k)(3)(H) of the PHS Act and 42 CFR Part 51c.304)

  1. Conflict of Interest Policy:  Health center bylaws or written corporate board approved policy include provisions that prohibit conflict of interest by board members, employees, consultants and those who furnish goods or services to the health center.
    • No board member shall be an employee of the health center or an immediate family member of an employee. The Chief Executive may serve only as a non-voting ex-officio member of the board.*
      (45 CFR Part 74.42 and 42 CFR Part 51c.304(b))


Program Benefits

Benefits to the Community

Health centers provide:

  • A health home for underserved people, improving public health, reducing the burden on hospital emergency rooms, and providing needed services such as free immunizations for uninsured children
  • A voice (through the consumer majority Board of Directors) in the operation of that health home
  • Broader health insurance coverage as the health center assists uninsured patients enroll in Medicaid, CHIP, and other assistance programs
  • Less costly care for Medicare patients, whose Medicare deductible costs are waived for FQHC-provided services


Benefits to the Health Center

  • Section 330 grant funds to offset the costs of uncompensated care and other key enabling services (Health Center Program grantees receive these grant funds. Look-alikes are eligible to compete for them.)
  • Access to medical malpractice coverage under Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) (Look-alikes are not eligible for this benefit.)
    More about the Federal Tort Claims Act
  • Prospective Payment System reimbursement for services to Medicaid patients
  • Cost-based reimbursement for services to Medicare patients
  • PHS Drug Pricing Discounts for pharmaceutical products under the 340B Program
    More about the 340B Drug Pricing Program
  • Federal loan guarantees for capital improvements (Look-alikes are not eligible for this benefit.)
  • Access to on-site eligibility workers to provide Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollment services
  • Reimbursement by Medicare for “first dollar” of services because deductible is waived if FQHC is providing services
  • Access to Vaccines for Children Program for uninsured children
  • The National Health Service Corps (NHSC) can help health centers, look-alikes, and free clinics recruit and retain qualified providers who care about communities in need and choose to work where they are needed most. 
  • National network of similar organizations committed to improving the health of the Nation’s underserved communities and vulnerable populations by assuring access to comprehensive, culturally competent, quality primary health care services


Special Populations

Health centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations that serve populations with limited access to health care. Some health centers also receive specific funding to focus on certain special populations:

  • individuals and families experiencing homelessness
  • agricultural workers and dependents
  • those living in public housing
  • Native Hawaiians

In 2012, health centers served more than 1.1 million individuals experiencing homelessness; over 900,000 agricultural workers and their families; approximately 220,000 residents of public housing; and 6,600 patients within the Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems (NHHCS) Program.

Health Care for the Homeless Program
Homelessness continues to be a pervasive problem throughout the U.S., affecting rural as well as urban and suburban communities. According to a recent national survey, it is estimated that 1.6 million people are homeless on any given night.

In 2012, HRSA-funded health centers served more than 1.1 million persons experiencing homelessness. The Health Care for the Homeless Program is a major source of care for homeless persons in the United States, serving patients that live on the street, in shelters, or in transitional housing.

Health Care for the Homeless grantees recognize the complex needs of homeless persons and strive to provide a coordinated, comprehensive approach to health care including substance abuse and mental health services.

Migrant Health Centers
In 2012, HRSA-funded health centers served over 900,000 agricultural workers and their families. It is estimated that HRSA-funded health center programs serve approximately one-third of migratory and seasonal agricultural workers in the United States.

The Migrant Health Center program provides support to health centers to deliver comprehensive, high quality, culturally-competent preventive and primary health services to migratory and seasonal agricultural workers and their families with a particular focus on the occupational health and safety needs of this population.

The National Advisory Council on Migrant Health regularly advises, consults with, and makes recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the HRSA Administrator on health issues affecting migratory and seasonal agricultural workers.

Public Housing Primary Care Health Centers
The Public Housing Primary Care Program provides residents of public housing with increased access to comprehensive primary health care services through the direct provision of health promotion, disease prevention, and primary health care services. Services are provided on the premises of public housing developments or at other locations immediately accessible to residents. In 2012, HRSA-funded health centers served approximately 220,000 residents of public housing.

Native Hawaiians
The Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems Program, funded within the Health Center Program appropriation, improves the health status of Native Hawaiians by making health education, health promotion, and disease prevention services available through the support of the Native Hawaiian Health Care System.

Native Hawaiians face cultural, financial, social, and geographic barriers that prevent them from utilizing existing health services. In addition, health services are often unavailable in the community.

The Native Hawaiian Health Care System use a combination of outreach, referral, and linkage mechanisms to provide or arrange services. Services provided include nutrition programs, screening and control of hypertension and diabetes, immunizations, and basic primary care services. In 2012, NHHCS provided medical and enabling encounters to more than 6,600 people. 

The Native Hawaiian Health Care Program also supports a health professions scholarship program for Native Hawaiians, the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program, and administrative costs for Papa Ola Lokahi, an organization that coordinates and assists health care programs provided to Native Hawaiians.


CPCA Staff Contact

If you have any questions, or need more information, please contact Emily Shipman, Senior Program Coordinator of Health Center Operations, at eshipman@cpca.org or (916) 440-8170.


2017 Annual Sponsors