Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Financial Coaching + Health, Pt. 1: The Need

Let's face it, poverty in America is a complex, multifaceted problem: financial services, health, education, housing, jobs, public benefits, environmental degradation--these are all issue areas that play a part in preventing a poverty-free nation.  Given that our mission is to end poverty in the lives of our clients, we are constantly looking at ways of expanding the breadth and depth of our products and services without straying from our core competency of offering financial services to the poor.  

Not long after we launched our one-on-one Financial Coaching program, we began to see that we could leverage the relationship developed between client and coach to identify a wide range of life goals and work together with our clients to achieve them.  It didn't take long to see that health issues were a significant barrier to success: half of bankruptcies are due to medical debt, and many of our clients cite health issues, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and anxiety, as significant challenges in their lives.  And when looked at from a macroeconomic point of view, America is facing health crisis; in fact, according to a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR),

Today, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic diseases account for about 70% of all deaths in the United States and restrict daily living activities for 25 million people.  They also impose huge costs on families and economy, gobbling up an estimated 75% of the money Americans spend on health care.

Finally, we know that lower-income Americans are more likely to live in communities known as 'food deserts' that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and less likely to have health insurance and/or be able to afford preventative and other care.  At the same time, the constant stress of working long hours just to make ends meet can often lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that are expensive to treat and rarely covered by insurance.

What all this means is that, both from the perspective of our clients and from that of society at large, empowering our clients to meet their health goals can have significant, positive effects.  Now, some might question why a financial services non-profit would begin dabbling in health, but it turns out that the coaching relationship can make a huge difference.  Consider, for instance, the following: according to a study of the American Medical Student Association, “...structural barriers [to accessing available services] included inadequate or ineffective advertisement of services, functional illiteracy, exceeding Medicaid eligibility guidelines, lacking telephone service to inquire about services and make appointments, residing in remote parts of the county, full time employment, and being homebound due to age, infirmity, child care responsibilities, and/or lack of transportation.” And the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation notes that "Closing the gaps in the use of just five preventive services would save100,000 lives annually in the United States.” (Pg. 9)

In other words, by helping our clients navigate the health care system, identify resources that are available to them and set clear goals around accessing resources, healthy eating, family planning, etc., we can both transform and even save lives.  Adding a health module to our Coaching would make sense even if it did nothing more than help our clients deal with medical debt and other health-related costs; but given these other impacts, I feel we have a moral obligation to innovate in this space.

In my next post, I will talk about how we plan to work with Partners in Health, one of the best non-profits in the world, to implement the health module.  Stay tuned!

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