Inside Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Interest in Health Information Laws

Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has taken quite a shine to the goal of improving access to healthcare for underprivileged populations through its Health Insurance Coverage grantmaking program. As the public health dialogue in this country has become more and more about “access”—access to healthcare, access to insurance, even access to healthy food—RWJF has become more and more interested in studying and monitoring barriers to health that vulnerable populations contend with every day. To RWJF, health care reform is essentially a barrier within a barrier: the slow pace of reform and implementation of the Affordable Care Act only keeps uninsured Americans stuck behind the hurdles of low pay, bad food, violence, or unstable employment—and the big giver wants to change that reality.

To that end, it recently made two sizeable grants. Seeing their connection to public health might take a little head-scratching, but it’s there. First, $30,000 to the George Washington University School of Public Health, to help maintain the HealthReformGPS website through 2014. HealthReformGPS seeks to analyze, understand, and report on the Affordable Care Act and its admittedly rocky roll-out. RWJF clearly support this effort, and sees the need for more unbiased, in-depth coverage of the ACA.

A second, larger grant also found its way to the George Washington University School of Public Health, this one in support of the George Washington University Legal Barriers Project Team, which conducts research and analysis into actual and perceived legal barriers to health system transformation, emphasizing laws relating to the use and exchange of health information. $975,000 over a year and a half will surely go a long way to further the project’s mission to research and identify ways the ACA can be implemented more smoothly.

Considering that RWJF’s Health Insurance Coverage program typically hands out a little over $7 million in grants annually, this latest giving to George Washington University is a sizeable piece of the pie. We’ll be keeping our eye on RWJF to see how their giving changes now that the Affordable Care Act is taking effect.