Summit highlights new opportunities for the profession

NASW members and staff NASW members and staff vote on the suggestions for improving social work teaching, research and advocacy related to health care reform during a recent social work and ACA summit in Chicago. From left: Heidi Allen, assistant professor of social work at Columbia University, N.Y.; Stacy Collins, NASW senior practice associate; June Simmons, CEO of Partners in Care Foundation in Los Angeles; and Barbara Jones, associate professor and co-director of the Institute for Grief, Loss, and Family Survival in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin.

NASW members made up more than half of the attendees at the Social Work and Affordable Care Act Summit, held Feb. 7 in Chicago.

NASW CEO Angelo McClain and NASW Senior Practice Associate Stacy Collins represented the association at the event.

The invitational conference, which highlighted how the ACA is opening up opportunities for social workers, brought together about 50 people from the social work field, including practitioners, academics, federal staff, and association representatives. Thirty-three of the attendees were NASW members.

“The significance of this,” Collins said, “is that it demonstrates NASW members’ commitment to the most important health care issue of our time — full implementation of the ACA.”

McClain said the conference provided “a great opportunity to assemble a group of national social work Affordable Care Act experts in one setting to discuss the implications of the ACA for social work research, policy advocacy, interdisciplinary practice, and education and training.”

Collins served on the summit’s advisory committee, and said the invitees have been actively speaking about the ACA, or publishing topics related to it — either in an academic or practice setting.

“This conference crystalized the broad range of roles social workers have under the ACA,” Collins said. “The law benefits millions of social work clients who are uninsured or underinsured and it allows our profession to expand into many jobs for which we have the skills and training.”

During the one-day event, attendees worked in small groups to explore six major topic areas within the ACA that offer opportunities for social work involvement:

  • Care coordination
  • Health behavior change
  • Community-based prevention
  • Insurance access and enrollment
  • Care transition management
  • Behavioral health service integration

For example, the discussion of insurance access and enrollment — led by Julie Darnell, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago — focused on why help is needed for those enrolling in insurance programs; the large number of people in the U.S. who are uninsured (50 million as of 2011); types of consumer assistance available; and roles within consumer-assistance programs that social workers could fill. Some of these roles include navigators, in-person assistance and certified application counselors.

The sessions also explored the challenges facing the profession, including the need to expand social work educational curriculum to include a greater focus on the ACA.

After the small-group presentations, all attendees assembled to debrief and vote on priorities for future action.

“This summit made clear that the social work profession is the best suited to be able to carry out the new roles in the Affordable Care Act that maybe have never been articulated as part of a health policy before in the history of our country,” said NASW member Laura R. Bronstein, dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University in New York. “This is an opportunity where there is a significant policy that spells out the roles we need to do, and we as social workers know it’s a time to make those clear.”

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration Center for Health Administration Studies; the University of South Carolina College of Social Work; the George Warren Browne School of Social Work at Washington University; and the Society for Social Work and Research sponsored the summit.