TH: HHS to Test Role of Social Determinants in Overall Health

NYAPRS Note: The Obama administration announced a new pilot program – the Accountable Health Communities Model – on Tuesday, designed to test whether health outcomes improve when non-health issues like housing and hunger are addressed. The program will include $157 million in funding made available by the Affordable Care Act.

We know that housing, while not a health issue in itself, is a social determinant of health (along with employment, social support, and cultural competence), and applaud the President for investing in programs crucial to the wellbeing of our community.  


HHS Launches Test Program for Non-Health Needs

Peter Sullivan The Hill January 5, 2016


The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a new pilot program to test whether helping people with non-health issues like housing and food can save Medicare money and improve health outcomes.


The program will provide $157 million in funding made available by ObamaCare for “bridge organizations” which will work in certain communities to identify social needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and help connect them to existing aid programs.


For example, if someone can’t afford to heat their home, which in turn could contribute to health problems, the bridge organization could help connect the person to existing programs to help pay for heating oil.


The program, called the Accountable Health Communities Model, eventually could be expanded if the test results show it is helping to reduce healthcare spending and cut down on emergency room visits and hospital admissions.


It is part of the administration’s broader effort to make the healthcare system pay for quality instead of quantity.


“For decades, we’ve known that social needs profoundly affect health, and this model will help us understand which strategies work to help improve health and spend dollars more wisely,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).


The program joins a range of initiatives put forward a CMS innovation center created under ObamaCare that tries to reform the way Medicare pays for services so that it rewards quality instead of quantity.


Officials said the program eventually could be incorporated into another of the initiatives spurred by ObamaCare, known as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). An ACO is a group of doctors who come together to coordinate care and get paid in part based on the quality of health outcomes for patients.


Officials said an ACO could see that the program launched Tuesday is effective and decide to incorporate help with social services into its work.


The administration last January announced the broader goal of  30 percent of Medicare payments to quality rather than quantity by 2016 and 50 percent by 2018.


Of course, these efforts depend on the new administration continuing them in 2017.