...The Medicaid program provides a plausible platform upon which to build a health infrastructure that incorporates the social determinants of health. Medicaid could provide a common entry point that links individuals and families not just to health care services, but also to social services that affect their health. Indeed, state Medicaid leaders have long embraced this concept and are experienced in building bridges that link health and social programs to meet the comprehensive needs of their citizens.
Where Medicaid Leads In Addressing Social Determinants
Medicaid programs have long been leaders in addressing social determinants of health. A range of innovations for incorporating social determinants of health have been tested in Medicaid programs across the country. State Medicaid programs make referrals to social services, directly connect individuals to needed services, align systems to share goals, and invest future savings to the health care system into social services programs. For example:
- In Pennsylvania, the online health and human services programs eligibility system known as COMPASS allows individuals and families to simultaneously apply for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the health insurance marketplace, together with programs that administer food stamps, school lunches, child care assistance, and other benefits. There is evidence from a range of social programs that transaction costs—the difficulty of applying—significantly influence take-up rates. Single applications can facilitate access.
- Colorado’s Medicaid program divides the state into seven Regional Care Collaborative Organizations, each of which connects beneficiaries to health care providers as well as social and community services. The goal is to link every beneficiary with a primary care provider who not only serves as a central point of contact for medical care, but also assesses a person’s nonmedical needs.
- Louisiana, meanwhile, has embedded permanent supportive housing into Medicaid home- and community-based services, allowing for better integrated care for individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
- Recognizing the mutually reinforcing roles of health and education—health status influences a child’s ability to learn, for instance—Oregon began aligning its health care and early education systems around 2011. The Medicaid program and early learning systems share goals, staffing, and funding.
Additionally, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont are all testing strategies not only to link Medicaid and social services, but also to use Medicaid funds to actually deliver supportive services that affect social determinants of health. These value-based delivery system reforms include the creation of accountable care organizations, health homes, community health teams, and accountable communities for health.
Most recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched an initiative called Accountable Health Communities to better manage the health-related social needs of Medicare and Medicaid enrollees. The initiative will test whether systematically identifying and addressing the social determinants of health through screening, referral, and community navigation services will impact health care costs and reduce health care utilization. Over the next five years, the model will provide support to community organizations that link enrollees to services that address housing instability, food insecurity, utility needs, interpersonal violence, and transportation needs. As CMS begins to test this model, there is reason for optimism, given Medicaid’s track record of integrating health care and social services.
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