National Academies Study Recognizes Social Workers as Specialists in Social Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) applauds a study recently released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine – Integrating Social Care into the Delivery of Health Care: Moving Upstream to Improve the Nation’s Health.

Professional social workers for more than a century have been indispensable in advancing the nation’s health, providing much-needed services both within and outside health care settings. Moreover, social workers have been leaders in addressing the social determinants of health: economic stability, education, social community context, health care access and environmental factors. NASW is pleased that the profession’s valuable contributions in providing social care, especially in promoting health equity and access, are recognized in this major national study.

“The social determinants of health account for more than 50 percent of health outcomes. It is therefore important to acknowledge the valuable role of social workers in improving the nation’s health. As the study notes, social workers are specialists in providing social care,” said NASW Chief Executive Officer Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW.

The study defines social care as “activities that address health-related social risk factors and social needs,” and outlines five goals to advance the effort to better integrate social care into health care delivery, including:

  • Designing health care delivery to integrate social care into health care
  • Building a workforce to integrate social care into health care delivery
  • Developing a digital infrastructure that is interoperable between health care and social care organizations
  • Financing the integration of health care and social care
  • Funding, conducting and translating research and evaluation on the effectiveness and implementation of social care practices in health care settings.

The study further outlines numerous recommendations for how these goals can be achieved.

Study Committee member Robyn Golden, LCSW, associate vice president of Population Health and Aging at Rush University Medical Center, said “It was truly gratifying to participate in this consensus report and work with prominent, nationally-recognized professionals from across the health care spectrum. As the study articulates, social workers are essential in this arena, and in creating partnerships between the medical and social service worlds.”

One of the study’s key recommendations is that social workers be adequately paid for providing social care. NASW agrees with this recommendation.

We, therefore, urge Congress to pass the Improving Access to Mental Health Act (S. 782/H.R. 1533). This much-needed legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Stabenow, MSW (D-MI) and John Barrasso, MD (R-WY), and Rep. Barbara Lee, MSW (D-CA), will enable clinical social workers to receive Medicare Part B reimbursement for providing Health and Behavior Assessment and Intervention (HBAI) services, which are within the clinical social work scope of practice.

This much-needed legislation will also enable clinical social workers to receive Medicare Part B reimbursement for services provided to skilled nursing facility residents, many of whom experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.

In addition, NASW implores the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) not to implement its proposed payment cuts to clinical social workers participating in Medicare Part B. Clinical social workers are currently reimbursed at only 75 percent of the physician fee schedule, the lowest payment rate of any mental health clinician in this major federal program, despite providing equivalent services.

The Improving Access to Mental Health Act, which Congress should enact as soon as possible, would increase this rate to 85 percent. To ensure a sufficient workforce to meet the social and clinical care needs of older Americans, CMS needs to increase, not decrease, these reimbursement rates.

Finally, NASW urges regulators and other policymakers to adopt the study’s recommendation to enlarge the scope of practice for the nation’s 700,000 social workers to include social care.

“This is a very significant study to which policymakers on the local, state and federal level should pay careful attention,” McClain said. “We look forward to continuing to partner with these and other key stakeholders to ensure that the study’s recommendations are realized, for the benefit of people from all walks of life.”

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