Magazine article Policy & Practice

Health Reform and Human Service Interoperability: The Times, They Are A-Changing

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Health Reform and Human Service Interoperability: The Times, They Are A-Changing

Article excerpt

We've made substantial progress in the delivery of social services over the last several years. But the fragile economy that has strapped state and federal budgets is forcing us to do even more with less. Fortunately, other new developments support these efforts. Namely, new ways of communicating and storing and sharing data emerge daily, allowing us to streamline existing service delivery systems. And the Affordable Health Care Act--in addition to ushering in significant improvements in Americans' access to medical treatment--also requires states to design enrollment systems for their new health care exchanges that are consumer-friendly and integrated with human service programs.

We cannot underestimate the impact of health care reform on our operations. No matter how a state exercises its flexibility in organizing and administering Medicaid and CHIP, many of the 30 million people who are eligible for these programs or the new health insurance exchanges are also likely to be eligible for human service programs. An effort to standardize data elements and resolve cross-agency policy conflicts and confidentiality issues across health and human service programs will allow us to enroll more clients, realize programmatic and technological efficiencies and, most importantly, connect people who need help with agencies and nonprofits that can help them.

All of these pressures have combined to spur a revolution that marches under the banner of "interoperability." Its cause is a much more smoothly functioning, more technologically savvy future for health and human service delivery. Interoperability is picking up steam all across the government, and I'm proud that the Administration for Children and Families is in the vanguard.

Borrowed from the world of technology, interoperability is a relatively new word as applied to human services--although it's not an entirely original concept. The 20th century term for it was "service integration." These days, it is that and more.


Essentially, interoperability recognizes that human problems are not a series of discrete conditions, each occupying its own silo and addressed by a specific government remedy. Real people's problems don't fit neatly in compartments; they spill over programmatic lines and established bureaucratic procedures. Real life is complex and nuanced--a reality that government agencies don't reflect.

Interoperability addresses this problem by placing clients at the center of the services we provide, limiting technical and bureaucratic barriers between programs that make it harder for people to get the services they need. …

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