Guest post by Anastasia Sonneman, Communication/Public Engagement Program Specialist NACHC-Community HealthCorps
Over a third of U.S. adults—77 million people—have difficulty with common health tasks, such as following directions on a prescription drug label or adhering to a childhood immunization schedule, according to the Office of Prevention and Health Promotion at the Department of Health and Human Services. The vast complexity of the U.S. healthcare system can be challenging for many to navigate and understand, and too often, it is the people who need care the most who fall through the cracks.
That is why Community HealthCorps® is taking action.
“When about nine in ten Americans lack proficiency in health literacy—including how to use their health insurance–and 43 million have overdue medical debt, emphasizing financial-health literacy as a focus area for Community HealthCorps® was a necessary choice,” says Gerrard Jolly, Community HealthCorps® National Director.
As the bridge between the national service and Community Health Center movement, Community HealthCorps® places full-time AmeriCorps members into Community Health Centers so they can expand their reach to people who need access to care. With a primary aim of reducing barriers related to social determinants of health, the role of Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members is to address the most pressing needs of the nation’s medically underserved, in this case connecting the dots between a patient’s health-related decisions and their finances.
Throughout the past two years, Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members have integrated financial-health education as a part of their service activities, such as in health insurance enrollment, health outreach, and emergency room diversion initiatives. So far, the approach is working. Over 75% of the 27,000 patients served by Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members reported at least a 20% improvement in their financial-health knowledge. A story from the Community HealthCorps® team in Texas illustrates how this service can truly impact a patient’s life:
“At the Heart of Texas Community Health Center, all Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members become Certified Application Counselors for the Health Insurance Marketplace. Often times, patients come into the health center completely misunderstanding how to apply for health insurance on their own. Members spend a lot of time explaining the importance of health care coverage and how to apply. In one particular instance, a Member spent four hours over the course of several appointments helping a patient set up an email address, fill out the Marketplace application, and submit her first payment. Throughout these visits, the Member reviewed CMS’ “From Coverage to Care: A Roadmap to Better Care and a Healthier You” pamphlet to provide education about the financial impacts of becoming newly insured and how to utilize the health insurance benefits effectively. After engaging with the Member and becoming newly insured, the patient reported a 70% increase in their financial-health literacy.”
Community HealthCorps® has also partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to help develop program training and education in the area of financial-health literacy. Through this partnership, Community HealthCorps® was selected as one of the first national partners to introduce “Your Money, Your Goals,” CFPB’s new financial management toolkit focused on empowering patients to set financial goals, save for medical emergencies, and properly deal with medical debt. Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members use the toolkit as a resource to teach patients about financial-health information. In Michigan, for instance, Cherry Health’s Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members use the “Your Money, Your Goals” toolkit to reach different patient populations that include veterans and their families, children aging out of foster care, and ex-offenders transitioning out of the criminal justice system. The Community HealthCorps® team with the Institute of Rural Health at Idaho State University uses the toolkit to assist homeless patients with creating a budget because local housing organizations require one for applicants for assisted housing.
Focusing on financial-health literacy as a part of the Community HealthCorps® service experience not only provides AmeriCorps members with a more holistic lens of patient needs beyond the walls of traditional medicine, it also helps them gain a new perspective on reaching positive health outcomes with the patients they serve. Chantal Berry, who served with the 2014-2015 San Francisco Community Consortium Clinic Community HealthCorps® team, sheds light on how this link impacted her patient interactions:
“It has been a joy to develop a connection with families as their immediate contact for…finding access to health care, financial stability, and so much more. I am beginning to realize that this is the connection I want to make with patients and clients—a well-rounded look at their cultural background, lifestyle choices, and health care needs in order to make the right turn in a positive direction together.”