More than 8 million Americans now have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Insurance coverage is a means to an end: the aim is for the newly insured to use their coverage to access primary care and preventive services, as well as manage chronic illnesses to prevent future, costly complications.
Community Health Workers (CHWs) can contribute to this vision. A growing body of research demonstrates that CHWs improve health outcomes, especially among vulnerable, low-income populations. This finding is especially true when CHWs are incorporated into disease prevention programs and chronic disease management, for diseases like diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and depression.
As states continue to implement the ACA, there are multiple opportunities to expand the role of CHWs into our health care and public health systems. Section 5313 of the ACA identifies CHWs as health professionals and members of multi-disciplinary teams that can improve the delivery and quality of health care.
Illinois, like many other states, lacks some of the underlying policies, systems, and infrastructure to integrate CHWs effectively into the health care and social services systems. This report recommends that Illinois develop a strong supportive infrastructure to ensure the sustainability of this vital workforce and to strengthen the depth and breadth of its impact.
Toward this end, the Illinois Community Health Worker Advisory Board has developed recommendations for standards and policies around five key areas: (1) core competencies and roles; (2) training and certification; (3) financing and reimbursement; (4) workforce development; and (5) raising awareness.