The debate about if and how to amend, repeal, or replace the Affordable Care Act has drawn attention to the central role that the Medicaid program plays in providing coverage and access to health care for millions of Americans. This central role positions Medicaid as an ideal platform on which to build an integrated system that simultaneously addresses health care and social needs.
Evidence has been building that social determinants of health have a bigger impact even than health care services on people’s health, functioning, and quality of life. But the United States, while arguably developing some of the world’s most powerful health care technologies, has been slower to systematically address social determinants of health. We spend more than any other country on health care, per capita, but achieve worse health outcomes, Betsy Bradley and Lauren Taylor document in their book The American Health Care Paradox. But when health care and social spending are examined together, the United States ranks 13 in total spending.
“Ignoring the economic and social circumstances that result in poor health makes treating the resulting health problems much more expensive,” one review of that book summarized. Bradley and Taylor have gone on to argue that a shift towards social services could improve health outcomes and reduce costs for the system overall.