Written by: Veenu Aulakh

Last week I had an opportunity to attend the annual Grantmakers In Health (GIH) conference on health philanthropy. I used to attend this meeting regularly as a foundation person. However, it’s been a number of years since I participated, so it was fun to go in with fresh eyes and an open mind.

This year’s GIH meeting was their largest conference in history with more than 750 grantmakers from across the country. GIH is a great place to learn about the latest trends in funding, network with colleagues, learn about different health-related topics, and hear about lessons in funding.

One clear trend in the health funder space is how the definition of health has expanded well beyond the walls of the healthcare system. In the past, the conference discussed a variety of topics on care integration, supporting capabilities in safety net settings, and exploring new models of care. This meeting had a very strong emphasis on grassroots organizing, funding social sector partnerships, and tackling the non-medical needs of patients like housing, water, and transportation.

I was happy to see a broader definition of health and a desire to invest in different ways. Clearly there is a need to experiment, learn, and fund community-level interventions if we are to address the root causes leading to poor health outcomes.

However, the timing of the meeting was also quite striking. The kickoff coincided with the unveiling of the new Senate plan to rollback the progress that we have made over the last few years with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Just as senators pushed to repeal the landmark law, we saw some impressive statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing how the rate of uninsured Americans has dropped from a high of 18.2 percent to 10.3 percent in 2016. We also heard some extremely compelling stories about how the ACA has made a profound impact on people’s lives.

While I’m very excited about the focus on broader community health, I also left wondering what would happen if the Senate bill (or some variation of it) moves forward and 22 million people lose their health insurance. How do safety net health systems, which are at risk for losing critical revenue, continue to deliver high-quality care to our most vulnerable populations? And what happens to these people once they no longer have timely access to care?

As health funders are investing more heavily in housing, water, transportation, and other determinants of health, how do we ensure the immediate healthcare needs of vulnerable people aren’t ignored? Is this current funding trend the right direction for community health?

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