Insight from State of Reform

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Sara Johnston

Sep 18, 2019

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Last week, over 300 people came together at the 2019 Inland NW State of Reform Health Policy Conference in Spokane. Representing diverse backgrounds—including providers and payers, elected officials and policymakers, marketers and communicators, public health professionals and social workers—we gathered to share insight and discuss the current health care landscape.

Alex and I were fortunate enough to attend this year. It is heartening to learn about the tangible impacts of the health care transformation happening in our state.

Following are our three big takeaways:

1. Social determinants of health

In most sessions, we heard presenters and attendees discuss the importance of applying resources upstream and figuring out how to integrate paying for social determinants of health into a business model.

Consider these statistics:

  • Of adult member who completed the annual health risk assessment for Community Health Plan of Washington (CPHW), 23.3% of adults reported an unmet social need.
  • The three biggest unmet social needs reported to the CPHW health risk assessment were employment (8.4% of adults), housing (8.0%) and transportation (7.6%).
  • Eastern Washington counties are among the poorest statewide, with average median incomes at least 20% lower than the state average
  • Children who experience poverty within the first two years of life are 2x more likely to be obese by age 1

It was interesting to hear how all the players thought about social determinants of health differently—how an FQHC provider might view it versus how a health plan administrator might tackle it.

Many presenters shared how they are collaborating to address these social determinants of health. A good example of this is the partnership between Volunteers of America and Amerigroup. Together, they have been able to fund a Volunteers of America caseworker to help connect at-risk populations with housing and employment—two of the top unmet social needs.

2. Improving whole person health

We were excited to hear emphasis on integration of two key areas of care: behavioral health and oral health—aspects often treated as separate from overall health. Health Care Authority is working toward behavioral health integration in these areas in 2020.

Rep. Marcus Ricelli, who serves as a member of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, talked about this integration as a policy focus for Democrats heading into 2020. He emphasized the importance of access to dental care and the role it plays in overall health, spotlighting success stories in Washington and where we can do better especially in rural communities.

3. The spirit of collaboration in Spokane

For those of us who live in Spokane, we aren’t surprised by how our community comes together, pools resources and makes incredible things happen. Keynote speakers Dr. O’Brien of MultiCare Health System, Beth Johnson of Coordinated Care, and Dow Constantine of King County emphasized examples of this collaboration to spotlight Washington’s success in building projects between health providers, public agencies, the private sector and community groups. This success is predicated on a well-educated and plentiful work force, open channels for communication between organizations and commitments to collaboration.

It was a good reminder that everyone has a part to play in addressing social determinants of health, promoting health equity and improving health in our region. No one organization can do it alone.

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