Social impact bonds could help private investors improve public health

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Today the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) and its research arm, the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, brought Australian health leaders together to unpack and discuss the emerging use of social impact investing and its potential to drive positive health outcomes in primary and acute care.

"Using social impact investing to drive positive health outcomes for specific conditions or populations is very much in its infancy in Australia," said AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven. "But governments, such as New South Wales among others, are beginning to look at the international trend and considering how social impact investing can be used in Australia to drive outcome-focused improvements."

Social impact investing involves private investors funding outcome-focused interventions and governments paying back the principal as well as a return on the investment only once the program meets its agreed upon outcomes. The attractiveness of social impact investing lies in risk mitigation to governments, cash flow management for government departments and the potential to promote innovation and increase accountability in service delivery through public-private partnerships.

"Impact investing in health would require a change in mindset away from discussions of whether private or public interests are responsible for ill-health. The focus shifts to the mitigation of ill-health by adjusting tastes and behaviours and the achievement of health outcomes," said Ms Verhoeven.

Today's discussions highlighted essential ingredients for success, including the development of measurable and robust outcomes, niche investors seeking a return on a public good, the development of effective and innovative interventions and consensus among the parties throughout the journey.

"Working together, Primary Health Networks and Local Health Districts are well-placed to be agents of positive change in realising better population health outcomes while being prudent fiscal stewards of public funds."

"PHNs and LHDs have an opportunity to engage in impact investments in order to respond more directly to local needs. A funded emphasis on better health outcomes rather than simply focusing on payments based on activity is consistent with the commissioning role envisaged for the PHNs."

"More work is needed to determine the applicability of social impact investing to the Australian primary and acute care environment. Federal and state governments will be keeping a close eye on the success of efforts."

Presentations were given by: Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, University of Melbourne, on options for financing primary care; Elizabeth Koff, New South Wales Ministry of Health Deputy Secretary Strategy and Resources, on the current state of play in New South Wales; Rosemary Addis, Co-founder and Chair, Impact Investing Australia, on global trends; and Professor Jeanette Ward, Consultant on Public Health Medicine for Western Australia Country Health Services, on social impact investing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in the Kimberley. 

Media enquiries:

Alison Verhoeven

Chief Executive, The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

0403 282 501

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