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Leading with Data: Kristin Paulson and CIVHC’s Vision for a Healthier Colorado

June 24, 2024

Written by Malik Chambers

Kristin Paulson, CEO of the Center for Improving Value in Health Care (CIVHC).

This member spotlight features the leadership journey of Kristin Paulson, CEO of the Center for Improving Value in Health Care (CIVHC) a Colorado-based independent nonprofit dedicated to improving health and health care in Colorado and beyond. With eight roles under her belt after more than a decade working with the organization, Kristin brings a wealth of experience to her leadership position, driving CIVHC’s mission forward with unwavering dedication. Kristin also serves on the Board of Directors at Civitas Networks for Health. Her deep commitment to improving health through data-led helps shape the collective efforts of the national network.

CIVHC serves as the steward of Colorado’s All Payer Claims Database (APCD), harnessing the power of comprehensive health care data to foster transparency, inform policy decisions, and advance health equity. Under Kristin’s guidance, CIVHC has witnessed exponential growth, doubling in size since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and expanding its impact both locally and nationally.

In this member spotlight, Kristin shares insights into CIVHC’s initiatives to revolutionize health care access and information sharing, underscoring the organization’s commitment to objectivity, innovation, and integrity in all endeavors.

How is CIVHC making an impact on the Colorado health care data landscape?

As the steward of Colorado’s APCD, we take the responsibility of protecting the data of our fellow Coloradans very seriously. We are dedicated to ensuring that this data is used to serve our community’s best interests. Internally, we talk about the data as the “people’s data” as a reminder that this data comes directly from our neighbors and friends. It is our responsibility to use it wisely and for their benefit.

We recently started a multi-year program evaluation with a local Colorado community-based organization that is launching a “food as a utility” pilot., The program will provide free grocery staples to participating families to free up family budgets for improved medical care, nutrition, and childcare. We’ll be overseeing program, process, and outcome evaluation of the pilot and working closely with the organization, participating families, and grocery stores to guide our work.

Another one of our partner organizations, Project Angel Heart, provides meals to individuals dealing with life-limiting illnesses and diseases. They were financially dependent on small grants and donations that limited their operations. We worked with them to conduct an ROI evaluation to demonstrate the impact of their services on reducing readmissions, increasing medical adherence, decreasing emergency room visits, and shortening hospital stays.

Project Angel Heart, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization, has been providing meals access to people living with severe illnesses for over 30 years.

Since completing our study in 2018, our data and evaluation helped Project Angel Heart more than double its revenue. Recently, the organization celebrated delivering its ten millionth meal and credited our study as the tipping point that enabled them to secure financial sustainability through reimbursement from health systems and payers. The study showed that by simply covering the cost of meals, they could reduce hospital readmission rates for high-risk individuals by as much as 40%, convincing providers to support their services. In fact, by connecting them to our partners at the State and highlighting the outcomes of the evaluation, Colorado became one of the first states in the nation to pay for medically tailored meals for severely ill Medicaid members. That connection of data to community to policy to people is what makes this work so rewarding.

It is incredibly gratifying and fun to see our work making a real impact on individuals and communities. Data can often seem abstract and high-level, and while the big policy picture is important, I find the greatest joy in seeing how our information directly helps people on the ground.

Kristin and CIVHC’s commitment to collaborating with small non-profit organizations is central to their mission. Recently, CIVHC and The Colorado Health Foundation launched a $1 Million Health Equity Fund to support community nonprofits with budgets under $10 million. This initiative provides up to $250,000 per year and $50,000 per project, demonstrating CIVHC’s dedication to partnering with small, community-based groups that are catalyzing real change.

Participating organizations include the Colorado Food Cluster, The Denver Indian Health and Family Service Center’s Mobile Health Unit, and the Youth Healthcare Alliance, highlighting the diverse reach of this collaborative effort.

How can we increase awareness of APCDs and their impact on health outcomes? What has the discussion around APCDs been like on the Hill?

There are hundreds of Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) in the U.S., but only 23 All-Payer Claims Databases (APCDs), and not all of them have the functionality and resources to distribute data widely. There is ongoing federal interest in APCDs where conversations about APCDs on Capitol Hill have been sporadic but important. APCDs are part of the discussion in both the Senate and the House, with a bill currently on the House floor aiming to establish a national APCD. This bill has been reintroduced several times, reflecting ongoing interest. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and other federal bodies are exploring the potential insights APCDs can offer through claims data. Specifically, APCDs provide crucial data on Medicare Advantage, offering a detailed look at costs and risk factors at the claim line level that isn’t available elsewhere. This makes APCDs invaluable for understanding and improving health outcomes.

We also have excellent data partners, like Contexture, the HIE for Colorado. We are collaborating on a project to create a statewide master patient index that would allow us to more easily combine claims and clinical data. Providers have told us they are worried about succeeding in value-based reimbursement without cost data. Our goal is to equip them with the necessary tools to succeed in new payment models by giving them a comprehensive understanding of their patients’ costs. Collaboration is vital to CIVHC; it is a core value and integral to everything we do.

In addition to this, we are deeply involved with the Colorado Governor’s Office, the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, and the Office of eHealth Innovation. By making data clear and accessible, we enhance visibility and accountability in health care. Transparency is key to our success. Over the past few years, we have worked closely with state officials to use data-driven insights to improve health outcomes and resource allocation. This open approach builds trust with the public and stakeholders, ensuring our data truly benefits the people of Colorado. Through these efforts, we’ve become a leader in health care data transparency and collaboration.

What aspects of Civitas membership are most valuable to you and your organization?

CIVHC is thrilled to deepen our collaboration with Civitas Networks for Health. For the past 10 years, we’ve been on similar paths, leading efforts to improve health care in our respective areas. Now, we can support each other in this new venture together, leveraging our shared experiences to make a greater impact.

Our partnership with Civitas embodies a supportive and welcoming community that is always seeking to work together better than we could apart. This collaborative spirit is one of the defining features of our approach. We believe that by joining forces, we can advance health outcomes more effectively for the people we serve.

Despite the challenges, such as limited state funding, we’ve seen numerous organizations come together to support each other and push forward. It is inspiring to see how we’ve all grown and supported each other, and I’m excited to continue this journey with such a dedicated and innovative community. This dedication to working collectively and our shared goal of advancing health care make Colorado a standout leader in health care transformation. Through our partnership with Civitas, we are excited to continue driving positive change and improving health for all Coloradans.

CIVHC is a proud member of Civitas Networks for Health. To learn more about their work, please visit their website.