Georgia’s Medicaid puzzle calls for holistic, public/private solution

By Guest Columnist BOBBY JONES, president, Georgia market, CareSource

Medicaid in Georgia, which provides healthcare to approximately 1.8 million low income and disabled residents, is the second largest line item in the state’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which ends June 30.

Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones

CareSource launched July 1, 2017 as Georgia’s first and only nonprofit managed care organization serving the Medicaid population. We are much more than simply a healthcare organization. The CareSource philosophy, and our proven approach over the past 29 years, is deeply rooted in helping to address the “social determinants of health” for our members.

Simply put, these are the societal conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, which studies have demonstrated have a significant impact on overall health. Think socioeconomic status, physical environment, education, employment, support networks, and access to healthcare.

For many Georgians who rely on Medicaid, healthcare is just one piece of the puzzle. In fact, for many Medicaid members, the real challenges to everyday life come in the form of ordinary obstacles that are second thoughts to most of us.

Health disparities are closely interconnected with social, economic, and environmental disadvantage. For Medicaid members who are not battling chronic conditions, issues with affordable housing, education, job training, and finding steady employment can be nearly impossible barriers to overcome. In that case, healthcare needs often fall to the bottom of the list of priorities.

By removing many real-life obstacles, and by closely addressing the social determinants of health, basic healthcare needs and the management of preventable chronic diseases can be addressed, and positive outcomes can be achieved.

food deserts, half mile

The orange areas are Census tracts with low incomes and that are located more than a half-mile from the nearest supermarket. The map is dated May 18, 2017. Credit: usda.gov

As an example, our Life Services department offers one-on-one coaching to help remove obstacles to self-sufficiency. These can include assisting Medicaid members with sourcing reliable transportation, continuing their education or getting their GED, finding affordable child care, and putting healthy, nutritious food on the table, to name a few.

In an effort to find more steady employment for our members, CareSource also offers a JobConnect program as part of our Life Services department, which teaches marketable skills and offers job training to our members. It may be as simple as preparing a member for a job interview and helping them with job placement or helping with household budgeting.

How can Georgia create an environment where we can focus on the social determinants of health for vulnerable populations in the state?

There is no doubt that Medicaid remains a complex issue in Georgia. However, a public and private sector effort is needed to empower Medicaid recipients to alleviate the financial burden of Medicaid in Georgia.

We are fortunate to operate in Georgia, which consistently ranks as a top state for business. We continue to develop partnerships with employers and organizations across Georgia to connect our members to resources and opportunities.

As a state, we significantly invest in things like infrastructure, trade, and generating a climate that attracts business growth. It is time that we also make an investment in creating an atmosphere where we can address the social determinants of health.

Metro Atlanta’s five core counties accounted for 33 percent of all statewide Medicaid average monthly enrollees in Fiscal Year 2015, which ended June 31, 2015, according to Georgia State University’s Center for State and Local Finance. Credit: cslf.gsu.edu

If large and small companies across Georgia make an investment in employing Medicaid members, they can continue to a path of self-sufficiency and independence.

CareSource has also made a commitment to Georgia in terms of our presence in communities throughout the state, especially here in Atlanta. We operate a southern regional headquarters in the Atlanta Galleria area, which is the only headquarters outside of our corporate offices in Dayton, Ohio.

Since we began operating in Georgia, we have had a specific focus on ending hunger and food insecurity in Georgia, which is home to a large number of food deserts. Poor eating habits can lead to chronic health conditions and increasing access to healthy foods is a challenge that we faced head-on in 2017, and which we continue this year.

Last year alone, CareSource coordinated several food distribution events with organizations such as the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank. In November, we celebrated a Days of Caring initiative where we gave away six $10,000 grants to six food bank organizations from Atlanta to Valdosta.

By focusing on eradicating hunger and food insecurity, we will have helped increase health equity in Georgia, and decrease the second largest expense in the state budget. The money saved in transitioning Medicaid members into an independent life stage will pay dividends in a healthier and more productive state.

 

medicaid, percent county population

Metro Atlanta’s concentration of residents results in a lower proportion of them being Medicaid recipients than more rural counties in Georgia, according to Georgia State University’s Center for State and Local Finance. Credit: cslf.gsu.edu

 

Caresource, Atlanta Community Food Bank

The Atlanta Community Food Bank was one of six food banks in Georgia to which CareSource provided a $10,000 donation in 2017. Credit: Roland Alonzi

 

atlanta community food bank, volunteers

Medicaid recipients tend to face an array of social challenges in addition to health care, including reasonable access to quality food, such as the products in these boxes that volunteers are packing at the Atlanta Community Food Bank for distribution to its partner agencies that provide them to recipients. Credit: acfb.org

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