Fighting Poverty and Healthcare Costs with Kindness?

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Imagine you are cold, drunk, and homeless. As the night darkens and your discomfort grows unbearable, where do you turn for solace? If your Jerome Pate from Minneapolis, you go to the one place that has accepted you seventeen times over the course of four months; the emergency room.

With the new provisions of the Affordable Care Act in full effect, health officials are searching for solutions to the growing issue of treating patients with avoidable medical conditions. According to Ross Owen, a local county official, “we’d pay to amputate a diabetic’s foot, but not for a warm pair of winter boots.” In response, healthcare providers are attempting to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to providing treatment.

The pilot program, which launched in Minneapolis in 2012, is located in the Hennepin County Medical Center, with a focus group of 10,000 individuals. Social workers have provided support by, for example, paying an impoverished man’s utility bill in order to keep his insulin properly refrigerated. In turn, this financial aid helped prevent an expensive emergency room visit for hypoglycemia or potentially another serious condition. So the question becomes, if the state of Minnesota spends all of this money to eliminate avoidable hospital visits, how will hospitals make money?

The solution proposed by state officials was to pay Hennepin a fixed dollar amount per patient, regardless if they show up for their appointment, and the pilot program would continue to care for patients outside the hospital. As a result, medical costs have fallen an average of 11 percent per year since the pilot program started, enough to keep the program active and the hospital involved.

Despite these encouraging results in Hennepin, there are still many uncertainties regarding the effectiveness of such a program on a grand scale. Even so, the next time you cross paths with a homeless man, make sure he has a warm pair of boots.

By Chris D'Arrigo

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Christopher D’Arrigo currently works as a Financial Operations Manager for Blackboard, Inc. in Doylestown, PA, and is a contributor to Medical Groups. Chris graduated from Saint Joseph’s University with a focus in Accounting and enjoys studying the financial trends and technological developments of the healthcare industry.