Dec, 05, 2016

New Brief Highlights Innovative Strategies for Integrating Health Care and Social Services

Mounting evidence shows progress toward turning the promise of better, more affordable health care into reality.  Health reform efforts in recent years have been instrumental in reforming insurance practices, reducing the uninsured rate by a third, and – most exciting for those who work hand-in-glove with state partners – engaging stakeholders across industry and throughout government to forge new partnerships to deliver health care differently.

We’re starting to see those partnerships blossom. State and federal policymakers have discovered their creative, collaborative muscles and begun flexing them to address problems. Some of the most innovative integrate social services, public health resources, and traditional health care delivery in smart, efficient ways that could save taxpayers money by heading off problems before they spiral into crisis.

Our leftover health care problems are big, complicated, and tough to swallow because all too often, they aren’t even health care problems per se. The familiar ones that dominate the news – spiraling costs and the overwhelming complexity of care – actually spring largely from economic, education, transportation, environmental and housing problems. The simple solutions to these upstream, social determinants of health elude us because they don’t exist within, and can’t be addressed by, health care systems alone. We need that creative, collaborative approach among policymakers that engages the private sector and integrates social services, public health, and health care.

Policymakers need only look at the outsized impact non-health factors can play in individual’s health and on their own budgets to understand the urgency of action. One recent Health Affairs study “estimated [non-health factors] contribute to more than 70 percent of some types of cancer cases, 80 percent of cases of heart disease, and 90 percent of cases of stroke.” The same study points out that health care spending increased at a higher rate than inflation every single year since at least 1999. We know that rate can’t be sustained indefinitely without crowding out investments in other priorities.

Before I get too much farther, states interested in getting started should read our brief and reach out to the SHVS team. We’re always happy to advise state-based policymakers improving the delivery and value of health care in their states. Finally, for communities who are looking for ways to collaborate with hospitals and health departments, the BUILD Health Challenge just announced a new wave of funding – more information can be found here

Our new brief shows how leaders in seven states have already started to integrate these services. Perhaps the most intriguing comes from Michigan where the state’s Department of Health and Human Services purposefully used the re-procurement of its managed care contracts into a landmark requirement for plans to collect and use social determinants data to begin delivering population-based health care. It also spurred United Healthcare into converting a Detroit-area recreation center into a hub for low-income residents to receive medical care, behavioral services, and connect with social service providers. The center also offers a food pantry for people with diabetes – stocked with produce and other items supplied by local growers – women, infant and children (WIC) services, transportation services, job training, and other services.

Integration of health care and social services won’t come all at once and won’t be easy. At the same time, states have to get this right, and quickly, to keep their budgets in line and help make their communities healthier for their citizens to live, work, and play.