Social Work Scholars Find Opportunities in the Affordable Care Act


Fifty social work leaders and scholars gathered last year in Chicago to discuss ways to maximize social work’s effectiveness in health care delivery in the wake of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148).  The results of their collaboration was recently released as a white paper, Social Work and the Affordable Care Act: Maximizing the Profession’s Role in Health Care Reform.  Sponsored by the BrowCRSIP logon School at Washington University in St. Louis, the Center for Health Administration Studies at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Administration, the University of South Carolina’s College of Social Work, and the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), event organizers brought together accomplished social work researchers and heads of social work organizations to develop strategies to enhance the profession’s involvement in the implementation of the ACA through advocacy, training and research.

Drs. Christina Andrews and Teri Browne of the University of South Carolina were the event co-chairpersons and lead authors for the white paper.  Contributing authors and National Advisory Committee members included Heidi Allen (Columbia University), Darla Spence Coffey (Council on Social Work Education), Stacy Collins (National Association of Social Workers), Sarah Gehlert (Washington University), Robyn Golden (Rush University Medical Center), Jeanne Marsh (University of Chicago), Timothy McBride (Washington University), Angelo McClain (NASW), and Edward Woomer (Society of Social Work Leadership in Health Care).

Obama_signs_health_care-201Participants sought to build upon longstanding social work strengths such as engaging and understanding people in their social contexts, social work training that helps people navigate various service systems and connect people to needed resources, and the ability to work with and advocate for disenfranchised populations.  Finally, social work research training has created a cadre of highly-skilled researchers with the knowledge and analytic skills to provide research to complement the profession’s engagement with health care seekers and providers under the ACA.  Social workers had previously addressed the ACA in several forums including two Congressional briefings, a White House briefing, and the Integrated Behavioral Health Project co-sponsored by CSWE and the National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD).  The meeting focused on six areas: care coordination, behavioral health service integration, insurance access and enrollment, community-based prevention, care transition management, and health behavior change intervention.

Among the recommendations was to have a well-crafted advocacy campaign directed at policymakers, health care stakeholders and the public at large about social work’s value in achieving the ACA goals of improving health care access, quality, and cost-effectiveness.  To achieve this, the profession should invest in the services of lobbyists and public relations experts.  Participants strongly endorsed seeking financing and support for the development of an Institute of Medicine report on the future of health care social work.  Participants also felt strongly that the social work profession must find ways to constructively engage health care insurers, health centers, hospitals, large private physician practices and behavioral health programs.

Other recommendations included promoting social work use of all available and appropriate billing codes, promoting social work representation in all ACA-related leadership and advisory bodies, expanding interprofessional training in social work education with other health sciences such as pharmacy, medicine, nursing, public health and allied health professions, and infusing ACA content across required social work curricula.  Courses should be available to train social work students in health care management and leadership.  Social work research training and research should reflect changing healthcare landscape through diversifying research methods and data sources, including measure for cost-effectiveness, and conducting research that documents social work’s unique contributions to health care delivery.

All participants should be commended for working together to develop a well-conceived strategy for social work’s involvement in 21st century health care delivery.  Needless to say I would have liked to see more focus on seeking policy changes where needed.  Our current system, although a great improvement on the past, would be much better with a public option, if not a single-payer system.  The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare has designated the promotion of health as one of its “Grand Challenges.”  Perhaps there will be room for policy discussions in that effort.

Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D

Social Work Scholars Find Opportunities in the Affordable Care Act was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis and has been syndicated with permission.

Photo by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}


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  1. Amy Hochreiter May 5, 2015

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