As usual, the new legislative session comes with a long list of issues. That’s especially true this year, as Arizona lawmakers endeavor to tackle everything from education funding and water policy to child welfare and the opioid epidemic.
One issue that remains a priority for our residents is accessible, affordable health care, especially for low-income and at-risk individuals who are part of the state’s Medicaid system.
One in four Arizonans, or about 1.9 million people, benefit from the $12 billion Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. The program has been lauded as one of the most effective and efficient of its kind in the nation, yet organizations like Arizona Care Network are charged with taking this successful model of care to an even higher level.
Improving access to health care isn’t as simple as just expanding coverage or cutting costs. Health care visionaries know that we must improve the way in which care is delivered to achieve the goal of improving outcomes and lowering the cost of care to help ensure the safety and quality of life for all.
Two years ago, Arizona Care Network teamed up with Mercy Care Plan, which administers benefits for Medicaid patients, and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care, the Regional Behavioral Health Authority for Maricopa County, to manage care for more than 100,000 Medicaid members, some whom are living with serious mental illnesses.
I salute Mercy Maricopa, the first RBHA in Arizona to provide integrated physical and behavioral health services to this population of patients, which on average, have a reduced life expectancy of 10-25 years compared to the general population. These patients grapple with a host of chronic medical conditions – from cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases to diabetes and high blood pressure – which are all more challenging to address alongside their mental health challenges. Integrating medical and behavioral care is a new model and it is working.
As you can imagine, the cost of caring for this population is high, given their historically poor overall health and frequent use of hospital emergency departments. While improving the health of this challenging patient population is a complex endeavor, Arizona Care Network proved that it is possible. Working in partnership with Mercy Care Plan to provide greater access to care, health and wellness screenings, early intervention, and comprehensive care coordination, we were able to break the harmful cycle and achieve real and measurable outcomes. Among them was cost savings of $14.4 million less than the Mercy Care Plan benchmark for this Medicaid population across two years.
In addition, our Medicaid members experienced marked improvement in key national measures for quality of care, including decreased utilization of emergency care, decreased hospital admissions and reduced hospital readmissions. As part of our program, these patients also took advantage of well-child check-ups for their kids and they were able to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure more effectively.
The cost of our current health care system is rising at an unsustainable rate. It’s time for innovative solutions that build value rather than cost into health care. We must view health not as a condition but a continuum. One’s health impacts and is impacted by housing, education, employment, safety, and community. It’s time we started viewing health care through an integrated lens.
At its core, our partnerships with Mercy Maricopa and Mercy Care Plan underscore the power of population health. But we must never forget that our population is made up of individuals – people who want to feel better and have the confidence in their ability to manage their health so they can live their life. By collaborating with other healthcare stakeholders and taking a personalized approach to patient care, we have taken a good step forward to help Arizonans take control of their health while achieving better outcomes and a lower cost of care.
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Dr. David Hanekom is chief executive officer of Arizona Care Network.