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UnitedHealthcare Invests Millions in Social Determinants of Health

The funding will address social determinants of health such as food security and access to dental and vision care.

social determinants of health

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- UnitedHealthcare has awarded multimillion-dollar grants to community health organizations to help address the social determinants of health in Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana, the health plan has announced.

These grants will support community initiatives that target the specific social and health needs of the area’s population.

The social determinants of health, which range from housing security to access to nutritious food to access to care, have a significant impact on a patient’s ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. Patients who do not have access to healthy food cannot attain a high level of health and may run the risk of developing diabetes or another chronic illness, for example.

The $1.95 million grants awarded in Wisconsin will specifically address food security and pediatric patient access to care.

Funding to Feeding Wisconsin will help the organization’s efforts to expand access to plentiful and nutritious food. Grants to DentaMed, Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, and VisionQuest 20/20 will promote access to dental and vision care in schools and other community sites.

In Arizona, UnitedHealthcare has awarded grants to the Association of Arizona Foodbanks to combat food insecurity throughout the state. The payer has also awarded grants to VisionQuest 20/20 and Brighter Way Institute to work with school districts to offer dental and vision screenings and immunizations. Funding to The Arizona Partnership for Immunizations will help create a community health immunization center.

UnitedHealthcare has not yet announced the specific organizations receiving funding in the Texas, Missouri, or Louisiana awards.

Investments in these programs come as a part of the payer’s efforts to address the social determinants of health. Health is determined by a lot more than physical makeup, and medical professionals and payers must begin paying attention to that, said both UnitedHealthcare’s Community Plan of Wisconsin CEO Ellen Sexton and her Arizona counterpart, Joseph Gaudio.

“For many people, it’s not just genetic code that plays a role in their health status; it’s a full range of social factors,” Sexton and Gaudio both said in separate statements. “It’s difficult for people to improve their health, build primary-care relationships and address preventive health care needs if they can’t feed their families or don’t have stable housing. We understand the vital need for communities to address the social determinants of health that affect people’s health and quality of life.”

These funding announcements are just some of the steps UnitedHealthcare has taken to address the social determinants of health, the company said. The payer has invested over $350 million in building affordable housing units in multiple states, helping to close housing security gaps.

Other healthcare organizations are working to build community partnerships that will meet patients’ social needs. In addition to the philanthropic and karmic gains some organizations value, there is also an important cost component to addressing the social determinants of health.

In many cases, efforts to address the social determinants of health can cap other healthcare costs. Facilitating patient access to healthy meals might yield a smaller bill compared to treating a patient with chronic diabetes, for example.

Recently, Intermountain Healthcare has created a workforce to determine new strategies for addressing the social determinants of health in Utah. Alongside a $12 million investment, the healthcare organization will be funneling energy into identifying the social needs of patients in two Utah cities.

In partnership with the Utah Alliance for the Determinants of Health, this project aims to slow the growing cost of healthcare throughout the country, according to Mikelle Moore, Intermountain Healthcare’s senior vice president of community health.

“We are very excited to work with our local and statewide partners in this innovative Alliance,” Moore explained. “By working together in new ways to promote health, we expect to make a real difference in the lives of the people in these programs. The Alliance will lead to healthier communities and will also have a positive impact in slowing the rise of healthcare costs.”

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