HHS launches test program for non-health needs

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

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The program will provide $157 million in funding made available by ObamaCare for “bridge organizations” that 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.     

“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 by a CMS innovation center created under ObamaCare that tries to reform the way Medicare pays for services. The goal is to change the healthcare payment system so that it rewards healthier outcomes for patients rather than more tests and procedures.

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 tying 30 percent of Medicare payments to quality care or value by 2016 and 50 percent by 2018. 

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