Recap on key discussions about Social Determinants of Health
On the heels of an announcement regarding Project Link, AHIP’s new initiative centered on effectively addressing social barriers to health and long-term well-being, speakers at the 2019 AHIP Institute and Expo in Nashville continued the conversation on how to meaningfully address social determinants of health.
On Thursday, they approached the topic from three angles: food and nutrition, social isolation and loneliness, and cultural perceptions.
Sam Kass, former chef to the Obama family, shared that during his tenure as Senior White House Policy Advisor for Nutrition, a group of four-star generals indicated they considered the obesity epidemic to be one of the greatest challenges facing national security. He indicated Americans are “over-consuming nutrient-empty calories and under-consuming nutrient-rich ones.” The solution is to ensure that healthier options are within everyone’s reach. “We eat what we see,” Mr. Kass said.
One trend already visible to many health plans and managed care organizations is this: addressing social determinants of health positively impacts government-sponsored programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which are often faced with increasingly sick member populations. Particularly with increased flexibility in Medicare Advantage to cover Supplemental Services for the Chronically Ill (SSBCI), plans today have the ability to address the nutritional needs of their members.
Vivek H. Murthy, MD, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, addressed the impact of social isolation on health, noting that loneliness decreases lifespan by more than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and even reduces our ability to heal. Over recent decades, our increased mobility as Americans has contributed to social isolation, as we’ve moved away from community support structures. According to Dr. Vivek, not being connected in this way puts us in a “physiological state of stress.”
Particularly among older populations, a lack of mobility coupled with a lack of social supports can lead to increased risk of food insecurity, which can compound health challenges. Providing access to home-delivered meals can be an important component for plans to open doors for their members, helping their members to stay connected.
The final keynote speaker, Elena V. Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, and President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, shared her desire for plans to continue to address the “toxic stress” contributing to obesity and other health challenges affecting the Hispanic population. Leaders in the Hispanic community, including Dr. Rios, encourage plans to continue thinking about ways to ensure inclusivity, such as by offering language-appropriate materials and member support.
To be sure, the discussion on how to meaningfully address social determinants of health is far from over. As more and more solutions come to fruition, one thing is clear: we’ll be a healthier America when we all have access to proper nutrition and when we all have support from the communities in which we live.