Anti-Poverty Medicine Through Medical-Financial Partnerships: A New Approach to Child Poverty
Poverty threatens child health. In the United States, financial strain, which encompasses income and asset poverty, is common with many complex etiologies. Even relatively successful antipoverty programs and policies fall short of serving all families in need, endangering health. We describe a new approach to address this pervasive health problem: antipoverty medicine. Historically, medicine has viewed poverty as a social problem outside of its scope. Increasingly, health care has addressed poverty's downstream effects, such as food and housing insecurity. However, strong evidence now shows that poverty affects biology, and thus, merits treatment as a medical problem. A new approach uses Medical-Financial Partnerships (MFPs), in which healthcare systems and financial service organizations collaborate to improve health by reducing family financial strain. MFPs help families grow assets by increasing savings, decreasing debt, and improving credit and economic opportunity while building a solid foundation for lifelong financial, physical, and mental health. We review evidence-based approaches to poverty alleviation, including conditional and unconditional cash transfers, savings vehicles, debt relief, credit repair, financial coaching, and employment assistance. We describe current national MFPs and highlight different applications of these evidence-based clinical financial interventions. Current MFP models reveal implementation opportunities and challenges, including time and space constraints, time-sensitive processes, lack of familiarity among patients and communities served, and sustainability in traditional medical settings. We conclude that pediatric health care practices can intervene upon poverty and should consider embracing antipoverty medicine as an essential part of the future of pediatric care.