Nonprofits help states implement health care reform

The federal health care law is putting a lot of pressure on states to roll out highly complex programs at a time when they're already strapped for resources and staff.

A program at the University of Minnesota is one of several organizations nationwide that can provide states with technical assistance. And now a major foundation has agreed provide funding so states can have access to that expertise. It's part of a trend in the evolution of the health care overhaul.


The State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC) at the University of Minnesota is the creation of health economist Lynn Blewett, who founded the research center in 2000 as a professor in the university's School of Public Health.

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The center's mission is to help state policymakers make health care coverage decisions based on hard data rather than anecdotal evidence. Many times officials don't know what kind of information exists, where it is, or what it means.

Public health professor and SHADAC economist Sharon Long said the center wants to serve as a kind of health care overhaul helpdesk to states.

"We try to be a one-stop shop if you have a problem," Long said. "We facilitate conversations across states, we provide data to states, help them use data, help them find people who can help with the issues that aren't their areas of expertise."

With funding from government and foundation sources, SHADAC collects and analyzes information, such as the number of people who lack insurance in a state, where they're located, and the supply of doctors and clinics.

That kind of information can help states as they prepare for the federal health care law's massive shift in health insurance coverage in 2014. Then, a wave of 32 million more Americans are projected to join the ranks of the insured.

In addition, most states will be setting up health insurance exchanges — online marketplaces similar to travel shopping sites — where consumers can compare and buy health insurance.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a major supporter of the health care overhaul, is spending $10 million to help provide states with the expertise of organizations like SHADAC.

SHADAC will receive $1.2 million to help Minnesota and nine other states to get technical assistance. Those states are: Alabama, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Other foundations in California and Kansas are funding similar programs designed to aid states in carrying out the federal health care law.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program director, former New Jersey Commissioner of Health and Senior Services Heather Howard, said other states will benefit from the program's work in the initial 10 states.

"One component of the federal health law is a broad expansion of the Medicaid program and SHADAC can help states analyze what that expansion population is going to look like — how many people will be coming into their Medicaid program, what their health needs might be," Howard said.

Those are huge questions to Dan Meuse, Deputy Chief of Staff for Rhode Island's lieutenant governor. Meuse calls those the "who'll go where in 2014" questions that state policymakers need answers to in order to plan ahead.

Meuse says Rhode Island officials have already used SHADAC data for mapping the location of primary care doctors.

Minnesota officials have been using SHADAC for a least a decade, primarily surveying who has insurance and how they're using it.

SHADAC's Sharon Long said not enough people are working on the new project. She said the center is working on hiring more analysts because the project is going to require a substantial amount of work in a short period of time.

Editor's note: This story has changed from the original version to clarify that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, not the other foundations in California and Kansas, is targeting its assistance at Minnesota and nine other states.