Kentucky lawmakers are considering a bill (HB 525) to allow Medicaid to reimburse certified Community Health Workers (CHWs).
Supporters said it would help reverse the trend of health care workers leaving the profession in the stress of the pandemic.
Celine Mutuyemariya, community policy strategist for the Louisville Urban League, explained CHW positions are often funded through grants, which can be hard to sustain.
She contended a more reliable funding source would mean more CHWs would be available to meet health care needs, especially for people in underserved communities who may otherwise hesitate to visit a doctor's office.
"What Community Health Workers do is, they help to build trust with preventative health care systems," Mutuyemariya explained. "Like having a primary-care provider, having a dental provider, and seeing them consistently."
According to the Kentucky Association of Community Health Workers, the state saves more than $11 for every dollar invested in such services. And Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research said CHWs have been shown to improve a wide range of health conditions for the people they serve, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health.
The bill has passed the Kentucky House and is now in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
Mutuyemariya pointed out CHWs help people navigate the health care system, access care and address basic needs, so they do not end up in hospital emergency rooms.
"Your entryway into health care services would be emergency health care services," Mutuyemariya observed. "That's been the source, that's been most normalized, and that's not cost-effective. It's not effective as far as seeing improved health outcomes."
Tiffany Taul Scruggs, patient service outreach coordinator for Sterling Healthcare, said her team of CHWs worked tirelessly across seven counties to ensure patients made their appointments during the pandemic, transporting almost 1,300 people in 2020.
She added many would otherwise end up in the emergency room, or suffer from lack of care.
"They would do without food, access to food or to resources for food, housing, transportation," Taul Scruggs outlined. "They would just do without it. I mean, they'd do completely without it."
The Kentucky bill would also expand a path to higher education through the state's community and technical college system to ensure appropriate college credits are awarded to those who complete certified CHW training.
Written by Nadia Ramlangan for Kentucky News Service.