Healthcare spending reduced when people get help with social needs, study finds

Integrating social and medical care has potential financial benefits, including reduced healthcare spending, according to a study published in Population Health Management.

The study, by WellCare Health Plans and the University of South Florida College of Public Health in Tampa, examined a managed-care organization's call center-based social service referral program designed to help people address homelessness, transportation barriers, food insecurity and other social needs.

For the study, researchers used social service referral data and healthcare claims for Medicaid and Medicare Advantage members to analyze healthcare spending on care such as physician office visits and emergency department use. Researchers compared the change in mean healthcare spending in the year before and the year after referrals between January 1, 2015 and March 1, 2016. Among the 2,718 members who received referrals, 1,521 participants reported their social needs were met and 1,197 participants reported their social needs remained unmet.  

The study found mean healthcare spending in the year after referrals decreased for both groups of participants. However, it found an additional $2,443, or 10 percent, reduction in mean expenses after referrals for those who reported their social needs were met, compared to their counterparts whose needs were not. Researchers said this additional reduction "may be related to addressing their social needs."

They concluded: "Organizations that integrate medical and social services may thrive under policy initiatives that require financial accountability for the total well-being of patients."


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