Category Archives: Health Care Access

Dec 12 2014
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The Unfinished Work of the Affordable Care Act

Brendan Saloner, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. On this first Universal Coverage Day, Saloner examines holes in access to care that remain after the Affordable Care Act. His post is cross-posted with the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics blog.

Brendan Saloner

The United States is the last remaining rich country in the world where a large percentage of the population lacks health insurance coverage. This situation is being improved under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with recent estimates showing that from early 2013 to mid-2014 the uninsured rate dropped from 19 percent of adults to 14 percent. The uninsured rate will no doubt continue to fall in 2015, but the problem of the uninsured will not go away with the ACA. It will not go away even if all 50 states expand Medicaid for poor adults, and will not go away if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the plaintiffs in a pending challenge to the power of the administration to provide subsidies in the federally facilitated insurance exchanges.

In its 2012 baseline estimate, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that by 2022 the ACA might cut the number of uninsured by half, but would still leave behind 30 million people without insurance. This projection assumed full implementation of the ACA provisions. We don’t yet have a clear sense of how much larger that number will be with incomplete implementation of the core ACA coverage provisions, but even an optimistic assessment is that tens of millions of Americans will continue to spend periods of time without health insurance.

Who does the ACA leave behind? By design, the ACA excludes undocumented immigrants, a group that numbers around 11 million today. Some undocumented immigrants purchase private insurance, receive coverage from an employer, or participate in public programs funded with non-federal dollars, but the majority have no insurance. Undocumented immigrants are prohibited from enrolling in Medicaid, receiving subsidies, and purchasing coverage on the exchanges. Although President Obama recently signed an executive order protecting many undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation, the ACA exclusion will continue in the foreseeable future, barring an act of Congress. 

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Nov 12 2014
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Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans is Vital

Ilse Wiechers, MD, MPP, MHS is associate director at the Northeast Program Evaluation Center in the Office of Mental Health Operations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and faculty with the Yale Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship. She is an alumna of the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)/VA Clinical Scholars Program (2012-2014).

Ilse Wiechers

Health and disease are on a continuum.  We are at a point in time where we are trying to understand the constituents of health, whereas historically our focus has been on understanding disease. It is important to recognize that veterans have unique determinants of health not shared with the rest of the population, such as exposure to combat and prolonged time spent away from social support networks during deployment.

These exposures can put veterans at increased risk for mental health problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance use problems. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a health care system uniquely positioned to help improve the overall health of veterans because of its expertise in addressing these unique mental health needs.

I have the privilege to serve our nation’s veterans through my work as a geriatric psychiatrist conducting program evaluation for the Office of Mental Health Operations (OMHO) at the VA. My work provides me an opportunity to directly participate in several of the key components of the comprehensive mental health services the VA provides for veterans.

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Nov 5 2014
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U.S. Provides $283 Million to Increase Access to Care in Underserved Areas

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it is investing $283 million in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which provides scholarship and loan repayment services to health care providers who work in underserved areas.

The funds were authorized under the Affordable Care Act and will be used to boost the number of health care providers in underserved areas, which will increase access to care.

“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, programs like the National Health Service Corps increase the primary care workforce in communities that need it most,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, AB, BA, said in a release. “These investments are another example of how the law is working to deliver accessible, affordable, quality care.”

The NHSC was founded in 1972 and provides care to nearly 10 million people across the nation.

In fiscal 2014, more than 5,100 loan repayment and scholarship awards were made to clinicians and students and 38 states received grants to support loan repayment programs, according to Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, FAAN, head of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“Primary care clinicians are the backbone of our health system, and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, programs like the National Health Service Corps increase the primary care workforce in medically underserved urban, rural and Tribal communities,” Wakefield said.

Read the news release.

For more information about NHSC programs, please visit NHSC.hrsa.gov.

Oct 31 2014
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An Anthropological Approach to Medicine

Theresa Yera is a senior at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. A project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University, Project L/EARN is a 10-week summer internship that provides training, experience and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education.

Theresa Yera

When I applied to the 2014 Project L/EARN cohort, I was seeking exposure to anthropological research that would lead me into a career of public health service. I wanted to pursue L/EARN because of my strong interest in anthropology and medicine. My previous experience in health care included studying for the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) examinations, volunteering as a Campus Health Educator (CHE), and participating in qualitative and quantitative research projects for almost three years.

The training as an EMT introduced me to patient and health care provider interaction and raised questions on streamlining the process. It also trained me to think critically and quickly, sharpen my leadership skills, and develop interview questions. Patients complained of many chronic and acute health problems that stemmed from their health behaviors and environment. The CHE initiative led me to value a community approach for health problems. In CHE, I worked to end racial disparities in organ donation and increase awareness of the need for organ donation and a healthy lifestyle. I met many individuals with personal stories that explained why they either did or did not want to donate.

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Sep 26 2014
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Lack of Coverage for Undocumented Patients Puts Pressure on the Health Care Safety Net

Michael K. Gusmano is a research scholar at the Hastings Center in Garrison, New York and former president of the American Political Science Association’s Organized Section on Health Politics and Policy. After completing his PhD in political science at the University of Maryland at College Park, Gusmano was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Scholar in Health Policy Research at Yale University from 1995 to 1997.

Michael Gusmano

The nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants constitute a “medical underclass” in American society. [1,2] Apart from their eligibility for emergency Medicaid, undocumented immigrants as a population are ineligible for public health insurance programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and subsidies available to purchase private health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, because they are not “lawfully present” in the United States. [3] Federal health policy does provide undocumented immigrants with access to safety-net settings, such as an acute-care hospital’s emergency department (ED), or a community health center (CHC). Since 1986, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) has required that all patients who present in an ED receive an appropriate medical screening and, if found to be in need of emergency medical treatment (or in active labor), to be treated until their condition stabilizes. CHCs such as Federally Qualified Health Centers and other nonprofit or public primary care clinics serving low-income and other vulnerable populations trace their origins to health policy that includes the Migrant Health Act of 1962. [4]

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May 21 2014
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Communities of Color and Mental Health

David Fakunle, BA, is a first-year doctoral student in the mental health department of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is an alumnus of Project L/EARN, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.

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It is always interesting to speak with my relatives when an egregious act of violence occurs, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December 2012. They are always so disheartened about the mindset of an individual who can perpetrate such a horrible act. When I mentioned that this particular perpetrator, Adam Lanza, suffered from considerable mental disorder including possible undiagnosed schizophrenia, the response was something to the effect of, “Okay, so he was crazy.”

That’s it. He was crazy. I love my family dearly, but it saddens me as to how misinformed some of my relatives are about mental health. Notice that I say “misinformed” as opposed to “ignorant” because to me, being ignorant means you are willingly disregarding the information provided to you. But that is the issue: communities of color, in many cases, are not well-informed, if informed at all, about mental health. That is what drives the negative stereotypes that are highly prevalent within communities of color.

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May 20 2014
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The Culture of Mental Health Stigma in Communities of Color

Ayorkor Gaba, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and project manager at the Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers University, as well as a clinical supervisor at the Rutgers Psychological Clinic. She has a private practice in Highland Park, New Jersey and is an American Psychological Association-appointed representative to the United Nations. She is an alumna of Project L/EARN, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.

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Mental illness affects one in five adults in America. A disproportionately high burden of disability from mental disorders exists in communities of color. Research has shown that this higher burden does not arise from a greater prevalence or severity of illnesses in these communities, but stems from individuals in these communities being less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for their mental illnesses, having less access to and availability of mental health services, receiving less care, and experiencing poorer quality of care. Even after controlling for factors such as health insurance and socioeconomic status, ethnic minority groups still have a higher unmet mental health need than non-Hispanic Whites (Broman, 2012).  

There are a number of factors driving these statistics in our communities, including attitudes, lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services, distrust, stigma, and more. In our society all racial groups report mental health stigma, but culturally bound stigma may have a differential impact on communities of color. Stigma has been described as a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses (President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003).  Stigma in the general public often leads to internalized stigma at the individual level.  Several studies have shown that internalized stigma is an important mechanism decreasing the willingness to seek mental health treatment.

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May 16 2014
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New Participants in RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program to Study Determinants of Population Health

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program has announced the selection of 12 new scholars who will investigate how connections among biological, genetic, behavioral, social, economic, and environmental conditions impact the population’s health.

“We’re pleased to announce our newest class of Health & Society Scholars. These new scholars will continue to advance the program’s decade-long mission to answer the questions critical to guiding health policy and improving our nation’s health,” said Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, co-director with Christine Bachrach, PhD, of the national program office for the Health & Society Scholars program, and president of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The program seeks to improve the nation’s health by better understanding and acting on the determinants that can reduce population health disparities. Among many topics, the new scholars will study social factors underlying infectious disease transmission, as well as possible interventions designed to improve urban health. Previous cohorts of scholars have researched how health is influenced by civic engagement, discrimination, human happiness, work environment, public health policies, and many other societal factors.

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May 1 2014
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RWJF Clinical Scholars Video Podcast: Group Health CEO Scott Armstrong on Hospital Closures

In 1986, Scott Armstrong, MBA, joined Group Health Cooperative to manage the Washington- and Idaho-based health care organization’s hospitals. But as he explains in a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar Policy Podcast, in his role as President and CEO of Group Health, he has led the organization in shuttering those same hospitals. He tells RWJF Clinical Scholar Elizabeth Brown, MD, that the move followed a successful push to reduce per member hospital utilization. Group Health now relies heavily on community hospitals, and focuses its providers’ attention on caring for patients leading up to hospital admission and after discharge. The move, he says, has lowered Group Health’s costs while helping local hospitals put otherwise unused capacity to work. Armstrong believes the Group Health experience foreshadows changes for the health care industry more broadly.

The video podcast is part of a series of RWJF Clinical Scholars Health Policy Podcasts, co-produced with Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

The video is republished with permission from the Leonard Davis Institute.

Apr 29 2014
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How to Address Disparities? Meet Patients Where They Are, Connect Health to Community Values.

To mark National Minority Health Month, the Human Capital Blog asked several Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) scholars to respond to questions about improving health care for all. In this post, Elizabeth Gross Cohn, PhD, RN, an assistant professor at the Columbia University School of Nursing, responds to the question, “What does the country need to do to address disparities and build a culture of health that includes all people?” Cohn is an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar.

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How can we get more people to think pro-actively about health and health care? One approach would be to identify what people value and think about how to fold health into that equation—especially for populations where disparities exist, like health screening for men. 

In the case of where I live, the answer was cars. Long Island loves cars: hot rods, customs, muscle cars, and classic cars. We are fascinated with antique fire apparatus and old motorcycles. Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure leverages this fascination. Now in its tenth year, with 600 cars, this event attracts, screens, and educates more than 3,500 men about prostate cancer. 

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