Rural Dynamics receives $50K grant to look at impact of financial stress on health

Rural Dynamics in Great Falls has been awarded a $50,000 Healthy Kids, Healthy Families grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana.

Rural Dynamics is developing a program to help Montanans be more financially astute, therefore reducing the likelihood of financial stress and the health risks and costs associated with it.

“Financial stress takes a real toll on mental health and physical wellbeing and contributes to rising health care costs,” John Doran, BCBSMT divisional vice president of external affairs, said in a release. “The Rural Dynamics proposal addresses the root cause of financial distress. Not only will this proposal relieve the mental anguish of financial problems, it has great potential to also reduce future health care costs as a result. Addressing mental health is not a one-size-fits-all approach and this is a new and unique way of treating one of its underlying symptoms.”

State Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, is the executive director of Rural Dynamics and visited BCBSMT’s Helena headquarters Tuesday, where Doran and BCBSMT employees surprised him with the grant, according to the release.

“We’ve been working with Blue Cross and Blue Shield for almost a year now to try and look at ways that we can address the financial wellness of individuals so that it has an improved physical wellness on the back end,” Jacobson said in a release.

The pilot project will initially focus on north central Montana, within the service area of Benefis Health System. When appropriate, Rural Dynamics intends to expand testing efforts to include residents throughout Montana, according to the release.

“A year ago, Sen. Jacobson asked me, ‘What is Blue Cross doing to address the social determinants of health?’ I had a simple, one-word answer: ‘Everything,’” Doran said in the release. “But this proposal truly is new and unique for us. To date, we have not focused on the upstream impact of finances on health care costs. This proposal shows real promise and I am excited to see where it can go from here.”

In collaboration with BCBSMT, GreenPath Financial Wellness, Benefis, the Center for Financial Services Innovation, the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Center for Financial Security, Rural Dynamics intends to test several tools to determine how to best serve those in need, including:

  • providing online prevention tools to educate and assist families in budgeting and planning for financial security;
  • completing an assessment of income and expenses to form the baseline for developing a budget and plan to pay for expenses not covered by insurance;
  • debt repayment plans with healthcare providers that may consist of negotiated payment or other concessions;
  • allowing for affordability within the family’s budget; and
  • other interventions that are identified as desirable and feasible to users and stakeholders through the design process.

“We know that social determinants of health say that people in poverty and financial stress also leads to poorer health outcomes,” Jacobson said in the release. “We want to address that in a way to help people not only be physically well, but financially and mentally well as well.”

Healthy Kids, Healthy Families grant is part of BCBSMT’s effort to invest in and partner with like-minded nonprofit organizations that offer sustainable, measurable programs to reach children and their families in the five following areas: nutrition, physical activity, disease prevention and management, substance abuse prevention, and suicide prevention. The $50,000 grant is one of four BCBSMT awards each year.