Addressing Social Needs Through Medicaid: What Consumer Advocates Can Learn from North Carolina and Oregon

Health systems and policy makers are increasingly looking for ways to use health system levers, such as Medicaid, to address the social and economic factors that lead to poor health outcomes. While Medicaid alone cannot be expected to address the full range of factors that impact people’s health outcomes, it can play a vital role in helping connect people to social services and meeting some of their immediate social needs.

An earlier issue brief examined some best practices for utilizing Medicaid to identify patients social needs, such as healthy food or stable housing, and refer patients to social service providers who can help them address those needs. While screening for social needs is an important first step, some states are experimenting with innovative ways to more directly address Medicaid beneficiaries’ needs by paying for and providing services outside of what we normally think of as medical care, for example healthy cooking classes, public transportation passes, or a deposit to secure housing. Specifically, this issue brief looks at North Carolina and Oregon, two very different states that are at the forefront of finding innovative approaches to address Medicaid beneficiaries’ social needs.

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