This week, our In Focus section highlights the Health Affairs article, Advancing Health Equity and Integrated Care for Rural Dual Eligibles, authored by Ellen Breslin, Samantha Di Paola, Susan McGeehan, Rebecca Kellenberg, and Andrea Maresca, Health Management Associates.
A public health crisis is growing more acute in rural America, disproportionately impacting individuals with both Medicaid and Medicare (the “dually eligible”). The rural health crisis is a health equity concern that affects all rural residents, including dually eligible individuals. There are 47 to 60 million people residing in rural areas. Twenty-one percent of dually eligible individuals live in rural areas—that’s about 2.6 million people. Based on these numbers, the authors calculate that the dual eligible population residing in rural communities accounts for about 5 percent of the total rural population. Dually eligible individuals living in rural areas are at risk of falling through the cracks.
Dually eligible individuals lack access to adequate medical, behavioral health, home-and community-based services (HCBS) and other social services; those living in rural areas face even steeper challenges. Since dually eligible individuals are among the poorest of all individuals covered under Medicare, they are at significant risk of paying a steep rural mortality penalty.
With these challenges there are opportunities for innovation for the dually eligible population living in rural communities. The US can reverse the mortality-disparity rate trajectory. Public and private entities are interested in revitalizing rural America, confronting the rural health crisis, and harnessing the power of rural communities. Investment in the rural health care sector is essential given it is a major economic driver of rural communities.
HMA is creating a toolkit with actionable solutions to improve access to services and integrated care and health equity for individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid who live in rural areas across the country. This project is a follow-on project to a previous HMA project supported by Arnold Ventures. In 2021, HMA prepared a brief, Medicare-Medicaid Integration: Essential Elements for Integrated Care Programs for Dually Eligible Individuals, to increase and promote enrollment in integrated care programs (ICPs) meeting dually eligible individuals’ needs and preferences. Interviewees including dually eligible individuals helped HMA to identify “access to needed services in rural areas” as an essential element of ICPs. In response, HMA started a new project to create a toolkit with actionable strategies to improve access to needed services and improve integrated care opportunities, specific to dually eligible rural residents’ needs.
HMA designed the toolkit around four values: 1) rural health equity is an imperative for dually eligible individuals, 2) actionable solutions and innovations must come from the community, 3) there is no single pathway to integration, and 4) Medicare and Medicaid flexibilities are critical to inspiring innovations to advance health equity, access, and integration. The toolkit will provide actionable solutions for states with and without integrated care programs for dually eligible individuals to increase access to needed supports and services, care coordination, and integrated care programs. We expect that states and rural communities will use the toolkit as a foundation for mapping a holistic plan to advance access to care coordination and integrated programs for dually eligible individuals residing in rural communities. Other states may employ contractual tools listed in the toolkit to expand access to providers and new services; strengthen partnerships among entities serving the community such as community-based organizations, providers, and health plans; and increase community-wide accountability for meeting dually eligible individuals’ whole person-centered needs. The toolkit is scheduled for an early 2023 release.