NASHVILLE — Finding ways to take on social determinants of health dominated the discussion at America's Health Insurance Plans' annual conference, with the insurer lobby pledging to heighten the focus.
A new initiative aims to bring together payers from different markets and geographies to work together on establishing programs to combat social inequities that negatively affect health. It will identify best practices that will inform AHIP's policy agenda on both the state and federal level, the lobbying group said Thursday.
Where a person lives, access to fresh food, reliable transportation and loneliness can all play a huge role in the health of consumers.
Vivek Murthy, the nation's former surgeon general, said the opioid crisis and falling life expectancy can be traced back to disconnection and loneliness. Fueling that loneliness and disconnection is a society that is more mobile, uprooted from hometowns and reliant on technology with constant access to social media.
"People who struggle with loneliness actually live shorter lives," she said at the conference.
At AHIP, insurers including CVS' Aetna, Cigna, Centene and Anthem's CareMore discussed how they're tackling those issues.
CareMore launched a program to improve connections in their communities by first fostering relationships over the phone with outreach coordinators. Since launching the program two years ago, CareMore has reported a 21% decrease in hospital admissions.
Cigna has aimed to improve connections by leveraging its relationships with employers to help motivate them to encourage social connections at work.
Cigna's executives were shocked at the results of 20,000-person survey on health and loneliness conducted last year. Doug Nemecek, the payer's chief medical officer for behavioral health, said it was younger respondents who reported feeling more disconnected and less healthy.
"That was pretty scary," he said, noting many don't think of 18- to 22-year-olds as being lonely.
Garth Graham, vice president of community health and impact at CVS Health and President of Aetna Foundation, said his upbringing in an inner city gives him a unique perspective. "Communities are not expecting us to solve these problems but to work with them," he said.
Laura Sankey, vice president for product strategy and SDOH at Centene, stressed the importance of data. "The measurement part is so critical to be able to say we set up a study design, we've done an intervention and we know that this contributed to improved outcomes," Sankey said.
The problems are especially acute in minority communities, Elena Rios, CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, told a ballroom full of AHIP attendees.
She warned of the health consequences of adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Many Hispanic residents will not fill out the census if the citizenship question is successfully added. That's a problem because the census helps target funding for social programs that aim to address the very issues insurers are concerned about, Rios said.
She urged insurers to speak out against the citizenship question, noting "there's a lot of fear that needs to be dealt with."
Insurers can work to alleviate the fear around enrolling in health insurance plans or other social programs. It's a prevalent problem and it's why some Latinos lack insurance, Rios said. Undocumented parents may not enroll their child in an insurance plan, including Medicaid, or sign their child up for school lunch programs for fear of being targeted or deported.