With the proliferation of value-based payment initiatives and implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) coverage expansions, states have had many opportunities in recent years to improve the health of vulnerable populations through health promotion, prevention, and care coordination. We believe value-based payment models can and must support accountable health care delivery systems in partnering with community-based “messengers” to engage vulnerable individuals in health education and promotion. We explore one such messenger program, ACCESS, a Brooklyn-based project of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which trains barbers and hairstylists to help formerly incarcerated men learn to recognize and act upon their own health risk factors. Value-based payment offers an opportunity to support programs such as this.
“Messengers,” as we define them here, are community health workers—those who serve “as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.” Unfortunately, there are few dedicated funding streams available to support the messenger role. Fee-for-service payment arrangements do not reimburse these activities. Value-based payment, on the other hand, not only highlights the need to support messengers but also potentially provides funding to do so.
Value-based payment programs hold the health care delivery system accountable for meeting health goals for entire enrolled or attributed populations, which requires more than just providing better medical care. Shortfalls in medical care are responsible for only an estimated 10 percent of early mortality in the United States, while individual health-related behavior is responsible for 40 percent. Even the finest delivery system can only expect to see a modest improvement in the health of its community if it focuses only on the very thing it has been designed to do—providing medical care to sick people. Value-based payment requires delivery systems to redefine nothing less than their product, place, and providers. The product must be health; the place must be where people live and work; and the providers must include credible, community-based messengers.
Credible messengers can bring to delivery systems important knowledge about social determinants of health that impact individuals’ ability to access and act upon health-related information. We focus here on one social determinant—incarceration. Individuals formerly incarcerated have become eligible for Medicaid in large numbers and, as such, participate in a variety of value-based payment initiatives. New York State, where the ACCESS program has been implemented, is moving aggressively toward value-based payment in Medicaid. In 2015, the state announced its intention to shift 80–90 percent of its Medicaid managed care provider payments from fee-for-service to value-based arrangements by 2020.
In the United States, nearly 700,000 state and federal prisoners are released annually, and more than 11 million cycle through local jails. Incarcerated individuals have poorer physical health status than the rest of the population, a high burden of mental health and substance abuse disorders, and, once they are released, are more likely than the general population to be uninsured. However, under the ACA, more than one-third of inmates released annually from state and federal prisons are estimated to be Medicaid-eligible. If this pattern holds true for those released from local jails as well, there are potentially millions of formerly incarcerated individuals newly eligible for Medicaid—and for the value-based payment initiatives that may come with it.
The burdens of incarceration are distributed unevenly. Sixty percent of New York State prisoners come from New York City, and two-thirds of the 28,000 people released each year return to the city. Some Brooklyn neighborhoods have especially high incidences of incarceration and concomitant prison spending, earning them the dubious honorific of “million-dollar blocks,” even though they are among the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
At the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health (AAIUH), we found a striking overlap between Brooklyn’s million-dollar blocks and areas where we were already engaged in health-promotion activities. Founded in 1992, the AAIUH is an independent, nonprofit organization that collaborates with community members to incubate, test, and replicate neighborhood-based interventions to improve health conditions disproportionately affecting minorities. Arthur Ashe, a world-renowned African American tennis champion and social justice advocate, founded the AAIUH in partnership with the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. Using community-based participatory research, the AAIUH navigates disparate worlds—the institutional universe of academic medicine and day-to-day life in multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic neighborhoods.
Among other projects, the AAIUH has a long history of training barbers and hairstylists to deliver health education related to breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes in women, and HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer in men. When we began the ACCESS program in 2009, exploratory work revealed that more than 80 percent of barbers working in our ongoing projects had themselves spent at least one night in jail. This made them particularly credible messengers for our priority population of formerly incarcerated men and the supportive women in their lives. Guided by input from a community-based advisory board, we conducted focus groups of barbers, stylists, and customers to determine the best way to discuss incarceration and health, and which health issues would be most important to the community. Based on that input, the program emphasized cardiovascular disease, stress, and HIV/AIDS. We developed a health curriculum to increase awareness of these conditions, emphasizing prevention and the importance of “knowing your numbers”—that is, understanding health indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The curriculum included a resource guide for community health and social services related to the priority conditions and services for the re-entry population.
We trained barbers and stylists to deliver the curriculum in six establishments in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights areas of Brooklyn, emphasizing that health messages must be delivered in a way that could be useful to any member of the community who might know someone who had been incarcerated, instead of focusing solely on the formerly incarcerated themselves. In addition to the health messages and the resource guide, ACCESS included an HIV-focused health education video played several times a day in participating salons and barbershops and 12 AAIUH-sponsored Health Resource Days held at these establishments.
The project evaluation consisted of pre- and post-intervention surveys of patrons. The pre-intervention survey assessed patrons’ familiarity with risk factors, prevention, and resources related to the priority conditions. For example, patrons were asked multiple-choice questions such as: “What are some of the warning signs of a heart attack? What is a normal blood pressure reading?” The post-intervention survey of the same individuals sought to determine whether they had been exposed to the intervention and whether their knowledge regarding any of the previously asked questions had changed. Survey respondents’ ability to identify ways to assess their cardiovascular disease risk increased from 44 percent to 62 percent, and understanding that condom use can decrease the spread of HIV increased from 77 percent to 88 percent.
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