Implementation of the Affordable Care Act: Opportunities for Social Work Research
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will generate sweeping changes in the financing, organization and accessibility of health and social services in the United States. The expansion of Medicaid and the establishment of state Health Insurance Exchanges will vastly expand insurance access in the United States, with an estimated 30 million Americans gaining coverage. The emphasis on integrated models of care, including patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations, introduces new opportunities to improve care coordination and integration, reduce unnecessary service use, and make health care more cost-effective. Social workers’ understanding of patients’ environmental context, knowledge of social systems, and training in evidence-based practice make them uniquely equipped to contribute to these aims. However, maximizing the profession’s contribution to the ACA will require the involvement of social work researchers who can demonstrate and promote the efficacy of social work practice in achieving ACA aims.
The purpose of this roundtable is to educate participants about the ACA and stimulate discussion around how social work researchers can assist the profession to seize opportunities generated by it to improve healthcare access and quality. The roundtable will build upon insights from a recent United States Congressional briefing focused on the role of social work in the implementation of the ACA.
We will lay the foundation for discussion by providing an overview of the major aims of the ACA and describing specific initiatives devised to achieve them. To this end, we will cover ACA provisions aimed at expanding health insurance coverage; increasing patient enrollment and service access; and improving care coordination and integration. Second, we will describe how the profession’s unique perspective and training can contribute to the effective implementation of the ACA, including understanding of individuals within social context; knowledge of multiple and cross-cutting social service systems; and training in the provision of evidence-based practices, especially approaches that address physical, mental and social needs in tandem. Finally, we will describe several strategies through which social work researchers can enhance the profession’s contributions to the ACA, including identifying and testing practice models to improve healthcare access and quality; building practice-based research networks within the profession; and conducting policy analysis to inform state and national advocacy efforts to insure social workers’ involvement in ACA-generated intiatives.