AccessHealth SC brings help to communities, hope to the uninsured
With South Carolina's low-income uninsured population increasing on an almost daily basis, it might be tempting for those trying to meet their healthcare needs to throw in the towel. Instead, organizations from across the state—from medical clinics to hospitals to state agencies—have worked together to establish a new entity called AccessHealth SC that will bring help to communities and hope to the low-income uninsured.
Administered by the South Carolina Hospital Association and developed by stakeholders throughout the state, AccessHealth SC has a very clear goal: to change the current system of providing care to the uninsured—which is often fragmented—to a coordinated, community-based approach that meets uninsured patients' ongoing preventive, chronic, and acute healthcare and medication needs.
AccessHealth SC was initiated by North Carolina-based philanthropy, The Duke Endowment, and now includes a diverse set of partners from across the state with a vested interest in a more accessible, more efficient way of caring for the state's low-income uninsured population. Partners include trade associations representing hospitals, physicians, dentists and free clinics; state agencies like the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental and the Office of Rural Health; and nonprofits such as the United Way Association of South Carolina and Welvista.
Gene Cochrane, president of The Duke Endowment, says the Endowment is proud to be involved in such important work. "The partners in this effort knew that if we worked together, we could make a greater impact on a shared concern. Collaboration is always important, but it's especially crucial in these troubling economic times."
AccessHealth SC Executive Director Melanie Matney says it's all about connecting people for a healthier South Carolina. "People without health insurance are more likely to delay needed medical care. When they do seek help, they often head to an emergency room, which isn't always the best place for care. It also strains the financial health of South Carolina's hospitals, which in 2007, provided $1.3 billion in unreimbursed services. AccessHealth SC will help communities make healthcare services more accessible so that those without health insurance can get the right care in the right place at the right time."
Matney says that help will come in two forms: consulting and technical support needed to create community-based care networks and monetary grants to support and sustain them.
Communities must apply for grants, which will be awarded twice a year based on certain criteria.
"We are very fortunate in South Carolina because there are many organizations reaching out with various healthcare and medication services. But it can be confusing for people to know what's available and where to go. By working together as a network, hospitals, clinics, and other providers can reach more people with a broader range of services and do so in a more efficient, cost effective manner. AccessHealth SC will help communities do this."
Help starts here: www.accesshealthsc.net
AccessHealth SC is in its infancy, but already it is working to help South Carolina's low income, uninsured population connect with healthcare providers who can help. In early February, it launched a new website (www.accesshealthsc.net) that includes an interactive map of South Carolina. Visitors can click on individual counties and get a list of community health resources and their addresses, phone numbers and web addresses. This includes hospitals, free medical clinics, certified Rural Health Clinics, Community Health Centers, and in some cases, even dental services. Lists of providers, by category, also are included.
Matney says the website is the first of many steps AccessHealth SC will take to help South Carolina's low income, uninsured citizens find help. "It's a simple tool that people can use to find local healthcare resources. Even if people don't have a computer, they can visit a library and still visit this website and find information on organizations that may be able to provide assistance. If they have trouble finding help, they can call AccessHealth SC. We'll do our best to connect them with someone who can help," she says.
An idea born of necessity
AccessHealth SC was formed out of necessity. Currently, one in six South Carolinians has no health insurance because of job loss, affordability or being employed by a company that does not offer benefits. Purchasing coverage is not an option say 74 percent of the uninsured: they simply can't afford it.
This has a profound affect on the state's public health rankings. According to the United Health Foundation, South Carolina ranks 48th in the nation, down from 42nd last year. One reason is that over the last five years, the percentage of the state's uninsured population increased from 11.9 percent to 16.2 percent. One thing didn't change: with or without health insurance, people still need healthcare.
Coordinated networks increase access
While AccessHealth SC will encourage community health networks to adopt new systems to promote efficiency and increase access to care, it also recognizes that each community network must fit local needs. The make-up of a community network will depend on existing local resources and can include free medical clinics, Community Health Centers, certified Rural Health Clinics, physicians, hospitals, medication and behavioral health providers, and local health departments. Some communities also will offer dental services.
The biggest difference between current community healthcare resources and the new networks of care is coordination. The networks will coordinate services for uninsured patients, which in turn gives patients better access to healthcare services like treatment and medications for diabetes and heart disease.
Matney says this approach breaks down many barriers to care, barriers that range from psychological to financial or simply a lack of information. "When you don't have health insurance, particularly for those who have recently lost coverage, you often don't know what your options are. People may avoid going to the doctor because of the cost or other barriers, and then they use emergency rooms as the last resort. AccessHealth SC will help direct people to their local community networks, which will then try to get them to the right place."
A big picture solution
With the goal of changing the health system for the better, AccessHealth SC has enlisted an important state partner, the South Carolina Office of Research and Statistics. AccessHealth SC will be collecting data on the uninsured, disease trends and utilization of healthcare resources. This secured data—no personal information will be shared without prior written consent—will be shared with policymakers, healthcare providers and others to create a better understanding of the uninsured issue and for use in establishing future policies and programs.
Says Matney, "South Carolina's communities and its citizens have immediate needs and bigger, long-term needs. With this data, AccessHealth SC hopes to become an important resource for policymakers and providers so they can create meaningful new programs and solutions."
About AccessHealth SC
Administered by the South Carolina Hospital Association, AccessHealth SC works to create and sustain coordinated, data-driven community-based networks of care that provide medical homes and ensure timely, affordable, high quality healthcare services for low-income uninsured people in South Carolina. For information, visit www.accesshealthsc.net.