Obamacare provision requires nonprofit hospitals reach out to the community, emphasizing link between poverty and poor health
This article was co-authored with David Zuckerman, and originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun.
Study after study demonstrates that poverty is a powerful driver of poor health. Many of America’s leading hospitals exist in poor communities. Could these powerful institutions (in economic as well as medical terms) help overcome the deeper sources of failing health among the 46 million Americans living in poverty?
A little-known provision of Obamacare provides an unexpected opening.
Section 9007 of the Affordable Care Act requires every nonprofit hospital to complete a Community Health Needs Assessment every three years to engage the local community on its general health problems and explain how the hospital intends to address them.
This means that nonprofit hospitals are no longer permitted to treat only those within their walls. They must now reach out to the community, especially its underserved populations.
Hospitals are major economic engines. Nationally, nonprofit hospitals alone had reported revenues of more than $650 billion and assets of $875 billion as of August 2012. If employed strategically, this powerful force could have a major impact on the health and well-being of people in poverty across the nation.
Several far-sighted institutions already offer a glimpse of what this can mean. University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland — two leaders in the field — have decided that reducing health disparities requires such community-based economic strategies as bringing down high rates of unemployment, improving educational achievement, fostering community safety and building stronger social service networks. In 2007, these two hospitals and other community partners embarked on a comprehensive program to build community wealth.