Last week, the St. Louis Regional Health Commission (RHC) hosted its 10th Anniversary Summit. Formed in 2001, the RHC’s mission is to improve access to care, reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes in the St. Louis region. In just 10 short years, they have made tremendous progress in their work. In fact, their commitment to increase access to health care for people who are medically uninsured and underinsured has become a national model for innovative ways to improve safety net health care services.
I sat down with my colleague, Beth Minnigerode, who attended the summit and shared a few key takeaways with me:
- Last year, the RHC was charged with coordinating, monitoring and reporting on the Gateway to Better Health Demonstration Project. Funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Demonstration will preserve the St. Louis City and St. Louis County safety net of health care services available to the uninsured until a transition to health care coverage is available under the Affordable Care Act. In our region, this project will serve as a bridge for approximately 18,000 uninsured individuals. This project will also connect the uninsured and Medicaid populations to a primary care physician. This might not sound like a big deal, but those without insurance are 50 percent more likely to be admitted to the ER for avoidable health issues. Many times, this could have been avoided if the patient had a primary care physician they visited regularly for preventative services and monitoring.
- The Affordable Care Act will expand coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans, including more than 400,000 Missourians. Unfortunately, the U.S. is facing a shortage of doctors, particularly primary-care physicians who do not earn as much as their specialist physician counterparts. For med students strapped with high student loans, a career as a primary-care physician is not as attractive as one in a specialty field. In response, the Affordable Care Act provides scholarships, loan repayment benefits and higher Medicaid/Medicare reimbursements to physicians working in primary care.
- To help address the shortage of primary-care physicians serving the underinsured and uninsured on the local level, the Missouri Foundation for Health has funded a SLU Family Medicine Residency Program at Family Care Health Centers – community health centers that help underserved populations (residencies typically only take place in hospitals due to funding issues). By introducing young physicians to these vital community centers early in their career, the groups are hoping to increase the number of those choosing the primary-care field. Studies show that training family medicine residents in community health centers increases physician recruitment and retention in underserved areas. Read more here.
Congratulations to the RHC on 10 remarkable years of helping to build a healthier St. Louis! It is exciting to see that the work you are doing (right in our own backyard) will soon be a model for the rest of the nation!