Community-based charity care programs have long offered free or low-cost medical services to the uninsured population — providing a safety net for low-income Americans who would otherwise go without needed medical care. Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, however, many programs transitioned from providing access to basic medical services to connecting clients to health coverage. Now, many charity care programs have begun to embrace an even broader mission: working to address the social determinants of health. Charity care program efforts to address the social determinants of health fall into three main categories: (1) screening for non-medical needs and referring clients to available services; (2) supporting health literacy and bilingual understanding; and (3) promoting wellness through nutrition and fitness classes.
This brief — based on interviews with 11 charity care programs from eight states — summarizes emerging trends that demonstrate how community-based charity care programs are repositioning themselves to better serve low-income Americans.