3 steps to improving health equity in the safety net environment
Safety net health plans and their provider partners play a critical role in offering care for millions of people with socioeconomic challenges and complex health concerns. Unfortunately, these populations often experience disparities in care access and affordability, leading to poor quality of life and earlier mortality.
Reversing these trends and achieving health equity for vulnerable populations is a top goal for safety net health plans, including those who are members of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP).
To do so, members of the safety net community, such as Medicaid-managed care plans and community health centers, must adopt a new philosophy and actionable strategy for closing gaps in care and reducing challenging health disparities.
“There is no silver bullet to fix health disparities, no one weird trick,” said ACAP in a new roadmap to improve health equity. “Achieving equity requires the investigation of the diversity of experiences and outcomes of individuals and crafting solutions that incorporate an understanding of that diversity.”
“ACAP understands that the pathway to achieving health equity for all individuals is a journey that will require tremendous effort, creativity, and flexibility as health plans learn more and refine their interventions over time in an effort to improve outcomes.”
To jumpstart progress, ACAP advocates for a three-part approach to collaboratively supporting underserved populations throughout their healthcare journeys.
Listening and learning from members of the community
Safety net health plans and community health centers are intimately acquainted with the challenges their populations face every day, from racial and sexual violence to limited health literacy and financial instability. Taking the time to absorb insights from these entities about the disparities they are seeing and potential strategies to address them can help to jumpstart innovation.
For example, ACAP is launching a two-year learning series to identify best practices and supply expert know-how to health plans working with underserved populations. By delivering personalized support and brainstorming ideas about bringing health equity into the care setting, the association hopes to equip each health plan with an actionable roadmap to reducing disparities for its members.
Leveraging quality measurement and data analytics to promote change
Data is an extremely powerful tool for health plans to understand member behavior and offer insights to provider partners. Without robust quality measurement and meaningful interpretation of the data, efforts to transform the healthcare landscape are likely to fail, ACAP points out.
Health plans must improve their ability to collect demographic, clinical, and socioeconomic data for Medicaid beneficiaries, including language preferences, ethnicity data, behavioral health information, and maternal health data.
With more robust information about patients, their identities, and their health experiences, providers and health plans can work more effectively to target interventions to underserved groups.
Enacting high-impact policies to accelerate progress
Lastly, health plans and providers must advocate for policies that encourage health equity and reduce disparities.
ACAP highlights two major policy changes that would have an immediate impact on access and affordability: expanded funding services that address the social determinants of health (SDOH) and mandating continuous eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries.
Both actions would make it easier for patients to access necessary services and improve their health status while reducing long-term costs and administrative burdens for state Medicaid agencies.
These and other improvements to the safety net environment can lead to fewer disparities, better outcomes, lower costs, and improved experiences for patients who have previously struggled to engage with the care continuum.
By combining best practices from the field, advanced data analytics, and innovative policies, health plans can make it significantly easier for traditionally underserved patients to navigate the complicated healthcare landscape and access the care they need in an equitable and affordable manner.
Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.