Insurance Companies Take New Approach to Addressing Social Determinants of Health

America’s health insurers – in partnership with state- and federal-programs – have begun to address the non-medical, social, and physical environments which affect a person’s overall health – also called the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH or SDH). Research continues to show that these factors, such as housing, access to healthy food, education, and employment directly impacts health risks and outcomes and have been brought to light by high-profile programs like Healthy People 2020.

So where do insurance companies come in?

American health insurers, in addition to Medicare and Medicaid, have begun to invest in services and policies that seek to help patients overcome barriers related to housing, medicine, food to ultimately improve the life and health of patients and their families, and save millions of dollars for insurers and taxpayers.

According to Forbes, UnitedHealth (the nation’s largest health insurer) has invested $350 million since 2011 in affordable housing. Anthem has committed $380 million. And Medicare and Medicaid programs have begun to re-adjust their reimbursement models to include additional services that will help keep people out of ERs and hospital beds.

“Obviously, states cannot afford to pay for everything, but until you meet those basic needs, it’s almost impossible to address their healthcare,” said Jeff Myers, president of Medicaid Health Plans of America, in the Forbes article. “It’s hard to get a diabetic to focus on eating well if they don’t know where they are going to live.”

Kaiser Permanente recently committed $200 million to reduce homelessness – by increasing access to and availability of secure housing – to keep their members healthy. According to Business Insider, the company also sponsors school programs, increases access to healthy food and others services, gaining support from powerhouses like Berkshire Hathaway, who call these programs the future of American health care.

According to Non Profit Quarterly, some Medical Institutions are tackling these issues on their own. Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH, committed $6.6 million to build and renovate affordable housing to improve neighborhood health. According to one Nationwide pediatrician, poor and unstable housing leads to chronic diseases, and many are exposed to toxins and community violence – which directly impact children’s’ development.

Advocacy & Communication Solutions, LLC (ACS) works with several clients from the nonprofit, philanthropic, and government sectors that directly and indirectly address Social Determinants of Health for the betterment of families and communities including First Year Cleveland, HMS, and The Ohio 8 Coalition, among others.

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