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AHIP tackles social determinants of health

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   July 03, 2019

Its new industrywide Project Link program will share and shape insurer initiatives and research, as well as develop state and national policy guidelines.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has launched Project Link, a new initiative to address social determinants of health.

The industrywide program aims to bring together health insurance providers from across different markets to collect and share the best ideas, strategies, research, tools, and goals for tackling the factors other than medical care that play a role in people's health outcomes.

For insurers, working to address social barriers to healthcare is increasingly common; AHIP says a 2018 survey found that 80% of health insurance providers now integrate social determinants initiatives into their programs.

Among them is Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is piloting a program to help Chicago and Dallas residents living in "food deserts" have easier access to nutritious, affordable food.

Project Link aims to synthesis successful programs and ideas into cohesive action. The goal, AHIP says, is to ensure that "new programs addressing social determinants of health are scalable, sustainable, and measurable in improving health and affordability for everyone."

It will also develop state and national research and policy agendas.  

Among Project Link's components are a new learning collaborative for insurance providers to discuss emerging issues related to social barriers and social determinants of health and new partnership opportunities for the industry.

There's also the Project Link website, which spotlights relevant research, insights, and case studies.

Insurers aren't alone in their work on social determinants of health; it's a hot topic across the board. Even organizations that traditionally aren't in the health space, like Lyft and Meals on Wheels, are working to reduce disparities that impact health outcomes.

On the hospital side, social determinants of health can negatively affect the revenue cycle in ways large and small, from unpaid medical bills to readmissions penalties.

Research last year from Waystar showed that patients with high social determinants of health risk are more than three times more likely to miss multiple medical appointments per year.

That's why many hospitals and health systems are implementing programs of their own, like Geisinger's successful Fresh Food Pharmacy, which helps patients manage their diabetes by providing healthy foods and diabetes education.

On a broader level, the United Hospital Fund has recently developed a four-part framework for healthcare organizations to address social determinants of health in the communities they serve.

In addition, the American Hospital Association's 2019 Innovation Challenge will award monetary prizes to sustainable and scalable solutions that employ technology to combat social determinants of health.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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