States that Spend More Money on Social Services are Healthier

This week a study from the Yale School of Public Health found that States that spend more money on social services and public health programs relative to medical care have much healthier residents.  As researchers increasing identify links between social determinants of health, poor health outcomes and rising health care costs, the Obama Administration is preparing to fund additional research through the Accountable Health Communities Model which will examine the idea that improving social services can improve health and lower health care costs.

The new study was the first to compare state spending on social services to spending on Medicare and Medicaid and to residents’ health.   New York was among those with the lowest ratios of social services to medical spending, averaging $2.30 on social services for every medical dollar spent.  Compared with states like Colorado and Nevada that average $5 for every dollar of medical treatment and have much healthier residents, with lower rates of heart attacks, lung cancer, mental illness and obesity.

Many health care providers and Public Health experts agree that improved services for patients such as housing, transportation, job training, and nutritional security will save money down the road.   Spending on social service programs are generally less expensive than medical costs.  The authors of the study found that a 20% change in the median ratio of social to health spending would result in there being 85,000 fewer obese adults in the state within a year, saving an average of $2,700 in average annual health care expenses per person.

Elizabeth Bradley, lead author on the study, urges for more efficient rather than more government spending.  “It’s not just that it’s moral or immoral, it’s just smart” she says.  By failing to provide people services they need it can increase what we all pay in taxes on health care.