Clinical laboratories could offer services that complement SDH programs and help physicians find chronic disease patients who are undiagnosed

Insurance companies and healthcare providers increasingly consider social determinants of health (SDH) when devising strategies to improve the health of their customers and affect positive outcomes to medical encounters. Housing, transportation, access to food, and social support are quickly becoming part of the SDH approach to value-based care and population health.

In “Innovative Programs by Geisinger Health and Kaiser Permanente Are Moving Providers in Unexplored Directions in Support of Proactive Clinical Care,” Dark Daily reported on two well-known companies that are investing millions in SDH programs to bring food and affordable housing to vulnerable patients. These activities are evidence of a new trend in healthcare to address social, economic, and environmental barriers to quality care.

For clinical laboratory managers and pathologists this rapidly-developing trend is worth watching. They can expect to see more providers and insurers in their communities begin to offer these types of services to individuals and patients who might stay healthier and out of the hospital as a result of SDH programs. Clinical laboratories should consider strategies that help them provide medical lab testing services that complement SDH programs.

Medical laboratories, for example, could participate by offering free transportation to patient service centers for homebound chronic disease patients who need regular blood tests. Such community outreach also could help physicians identify people with chronic diseases who might otherwise go undiagnosed.

Anthem Offers Social Determinants of Health Package

In fact, health benefits giant Anthem, Inc. (NYSE:ANTM) partly attributes its 2019 first quarter 14% increase of Medicare Advantage members to a new “social determinants of health benefits package” comprised of healthy meals, transportation, adult day care, and homecare, according to Forbes.

“Our focus on caring for the whole person is designed to deliver better care and outcomes, reduce costs, and ultimately accelerate growth,” Gail Boudreaux, Anthem President and CEO, stated in a call to analysts, Forbes reports.

An Anthem news release states that SDH priorities for payers, providers, and other stakeholders should focus on enhancing individuals’ access to food, transportation, and social support.

In the Anthem news release, which announced the publication of a white paper that “outlines key differences in how individuals and the public perceive social determinants of health,” Jennifer Kowalski (above), Vice President of the Anthem Public Policy Institute stated, “By better understanding how individuals view and talk about social determinants, payers and providers alike can identify new and improved ways to engage with them to more effectively improve their health and wellbeing and the delivery of healthcare.” (Photo copyright: LinkedIn.)

CMS Expands Medicare Advantage Plans to Include Social Determinants of Health

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that, effective in 2019, Medicare Advantage plans can offer members benefits that address social determinants of health. Medicare Advantage members may be covered for services such as adult day care, meal delivery, transportation, and home environmental services that relate to chronic illnesses.

Humana’s ‘Bold Goal’

Humana, Inc. (NYSE:HUM) calls its SDH focus the Bold Goal. The program aims to improve health in communities it serves by 20% by 2020.

“The social barriers and health challenges that our Medicare Advantage members and others face are deeply personal. This requires us to become their trusted advocate that can partner with them to understand, navigate, and address these barriers and challenges,” said William Shrank, MD, Humana’s Chief Medical Officer, in a news release.

UnitedHealthcare Investing More than $400 Million in Housing

Meanwhile, since 2011, UnitedHealthcare (NYSE:UNH) also has invested in affordable housing and social determinants of health, Health Payer Intelligence reported.

In a news release, UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurer, described how it is investing more than $400 million in 80 affordable US housing communities, including:

  • $12 million, PATH Metro Villas, Los Angeles;
  • $11.7 million, Capital Studios, Austin;
  • $14.5 million allocated to Minneapolis military veterans housing;
  • $7.9 million, New Parkridge (in Ypsilanti, Mich.) affordable housing complex;
  • $21 million earmarked to Phoenix low- and moderate-income families needing housing and supportive services;
  • $7.8 million, Gouverneur Place Apartments, Bronx, New York; and
  • $7.7 million, The Vinings, Clarksville, Tenn.

“Access to safe and affordable housing is one of the greatest obstacles to better health, making it a social determinant that affects people’s well-being and quality of life. UnitedHealthcare partners with other socially minded organizations in helping make a positive impact in our communities,” said Steve Nelson, UnitedHealthcare’s CEO, in the news release.

Housing, Transportation, Food Insecurity Impact Health, Claim AHA, HRET

According to the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET), housing, or lack of it, impacts health. In “Housing and the Role of Hospitals,” the second guide in the organizations’ “Social Determinants of Health Series,” AHA and HRET state that 1.48 million people are homeless each year, and that unstable living conditions are associated with less preventative care, as well as the propensity to acquire diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and other healthcare conditions.

The AHA and HRET also published SDH guides on “Transportation” and “Food Insecurity.”

Social determinants of health programs are gaining in popularity. And as they become more robust, proactive clinical laboratory leaders may find opportunities to work with insurers and healthcare providers toward SDH goals to help healthcare consumers stay healthy, as well as reducing unnecessary hospital admissions and healthcare costs.   

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Anthem’s Social Determinants Benefits Package Boosts Medicare Enrollment

Bridging Gaps to Build Healthy Communities

New Anthem Public Policy Institute Report Outlines Key Differences in How Individual sand the Public Perceive Social Determinants of Health

CMS Finalizes Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment and Policy Updates to Maximize Competition and Coverage

Humana’s 2019 Bold Goal Progress Report Details Focus on Social Determinants of Health and Improved Healthy Days

Humana 2019 Bold Goal Progress Report

UnitedHealthcare Invests Over $400 Million in Social Determinants of Health

UnitedHealthcare Affordable Housing and Path Metro Villas

Social Determinants of Health Series: Housing

Innovative Programs by Geisinger Health and Kaiser Permanente are Moving Providers in Unexplored Directions in Support of Proactive Clinical Care