With tie between health and wealth, doctors work to help patients’ financial picture

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With the connection between health and wealth, doctors are trying to help patients improve their financial picture.

What’s a person’s health got to do with wealth? Turns out a lot, which is why it’s important that doctors try to help low-income patients with their finances.

A number of programs are already doing that, says Andrea Levere, president of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called Prosperity Now that helps low- and moderate-income families achieve financial stability, wealth, and prosperity, in an opinion piece on STAT.

“The link between wealth and health is what statisticians call a “line of perfect fit.” As your wealth declines, so, too, does your health,” writes Levere, who says she has been increasingly hearing from doctors who want to learn more about how to help their low-income patients build financial security as a way to help them get or stay healthy.

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There are programs such as StreetCred, created by Michael Hole, M.D., and Lucy Marcil, M.D., both pediatricians at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. Their nonprofit program lets people prepare their taxes and claim the federal earned income tax credit when they visit the doctor. Trained volunteers and staff help families file taxes, receive tax refunds and apply for government programs.

RELATED: 3 ways physicians can address patients’ financial worries

Doctors can help ensure patients receive antipoverty resources such as the tax credit, which is underutilized, and other government resources, says Levere.

New data released by her organization show that 13.3% of Americans did not see a doctor in 2015 because of cost. Another program is DotWell, also based in Boston, where doctors ask patients about their financial health and case managers develop a care plan that includes financial coaching and connecting patients to services.

The Presa Community Center in San Antonio, Texas also sends community health workers to patients’ homes after discharge from local hospitals to make sure they are following treatment plans and make them aware of financial services.

RELATED: Medicaid expansion decreased unpaid medical debt

“At a time of great uncertainly over the future of traditional safety-net programs, we all need to be a little more creative,” Levere says.

Doctors can start by asking patients questions that can help screen for financial problems. When patients are hit with unexpected medical bills, they may become worried about the expense and stop making appointments, taking medications or following treatment plans.

Given the established link between poverty and the adverse effect on health, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called on pediatricians to screen their patients and address any social determinants of health issues.

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