Supporting The Safety Net For Underserved Communities

by Darcy Lewis

June 20, 2017

Traditionally, the term “safety net” refers to a net placed to catch an acrobat or similar performer in case of a fall.

In health care, safety-net health systems perform the same role by offering access to care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Due to their social missions, safety-net providers treat a substantial share of patients who are covered by Medicaid and those who have no insurance at all.

According to Healthy People 2020, people with a regular source of health care have better health outcomes and fewer disparities and costs. But for many people throughout the United States, safety-net providers are the only health care option available to them. This means that demand often outstrips availability at these institutions.

Health plans are working to change that by specifically setting aside funds to help safety-net providers and programs. Here is a look at what three health plans are doing.

Kaiser Permanente’s Community Access Day

For the past nine years, Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles and Venice Family Clinic have collaborated to offer Community Access Day. On May 6, about 25 West Los Angeles-area residents received needed surgeries and medical procedures at no cost to them.

Procedures include gallbladder removal, hernia repair, and eye surgery. Diagnostic colonoscopies were also performed.

One surgeon who participated noted that Community Access Day has a “very powerful impact on these patients’ lives.” He added, “I am grateful for the opportunity to provide surgeries and procedures to people in our community with so much need and limited access to health care.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s “Strengthening the Safety Net”

Now in its 13th year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers grants to safety-net clinics across the state through its Strengthening the Safety Net program. The program provides funding to clinics that offer free or low-cost medical and dental treatment for uninsured and underinsured Michigan residents.

“The Strengthening the Safety Net grant program supports Blue Cross’ ongoing efforts to help increase access to affordable, quality health care for all Michigan residents,” said Lynda Rossi, executive vice president of Strategy, Government and Public Affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “Without these safety net clinics, thousands of people would potentially go without receiving the medical care they need.”

Clinics that provide free or low-cost medical, dental, mental health, vision, and specialty care services may apply for a Strengthening the Safety Net grant. Clinics can apply for up to $25,000 to support their operations or to expand their services as a medical or dental home. Grantees are also expected to link patients to services such as housing, transportation, nutrition, and job placement.

Independence Blue Cross Foundation’s “Blue Safety Net”

In the Philadelphia area, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation offers grants to nonprofit, privately funded community health centers that provide free or affordable care to local residents through its Blue Safety Net program.

Since 2011, the Blue Safety Net program has awarded nearly $13 million to community health centers that represent a variety of innovative care models. These include Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), FQHC-lookalikes, free clinics, and hospital system affiliates.

IBX calculates that Blue Safety Net-supported community health centers help save the southeast Pennsylvania region nearly $12 million in health care costs annually by providing less expensive alternatives to emergency room care.

All told, these and other health plan efforts strengthen the entire health care system by increasing access to care in underserved communities and improving patient coordination and communication among community health centers.