AHIP’s Project Link to collect best practices on social barriers

America’s Health Insurance Plans is starting an initiative intended to gather and enable the sharing of approaches that address social determinants of health.

The organization says its efforts will aim to bring together proven approaches for how to effectively address social barriers to health and long term well-being.

AHIP announced the program, called Project Link, at its Institute and Expo Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. Information on the initiative can be found here.

“Project Link aims to make these efforts scalable, sustainable and measureable, with the hope to diminish long-term costs,” said Matt Eyles, president and CEO of AHIP. SDOH has the potential to have a “real impact” on care costs and improving patients’ overall health, he added.

Barriers that affect health or get in the way of care delivery—for example, the inability to access healthy food or transportation, being socially disconnected or not having family members who can provide support for sick relatives—are increasingly gaining attention from providers and payers alike, as value-based care causes renewed interest in pre-emptive steps to improve members’ health.

Also See: Payers, providers jointly benefit from SDOH efforts

A 2018 survey by Change Healthcare found that 80 percent of health insurance plans now integrate social determinant initiatives into their programs. It’s a key reason why AHIP’s board of directors has charged the organization with focusing on addressing social barriers “as an essential part of the industry’s long-term vision for improved health and financial security for everyone the industry serves,” according to an announcement on the program.

Project Link is a key to the effort, says Rashi Venkataraman, executive director of prevention and population health for AHIP. SDOH initiatives that health plans have executed show the need for personalized approaches to overcome barriers to care. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all health insurance plans,” she added.

For example, CareMore Health, a Cerritos, Calif.-based organization, has started a Togetherness program for more than 1,100 patients whose clinical records suggest that they are socially isolated, said Robin Caruso, a licensed social worker and Chief Togetherness Officer. Social isolation and loneliness have been demonstrated as having negative impacts on health, and the CareMore program uses care managers to intentionally reach out to those patients and get them connected to healthcare, as well as the community at large, Caruso said.

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In Minneapolis-St. Paul, UCare is seeking to address food deserts in the Twin Cities—it’s been shown to be the fifth largest food desert in the country, says Ghita Worcester, senior vice president of public affairs and the chief marketing officer for the organization.

To address this problem, the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a not-for-profit organization in Saint Paul, two retired metro buses, stocked them with food it bought at cost from a grocery store chain in the area, and developed a grocery store on wheels program to bring food into the area. It identified 24 locations in the metropolitan area for the buses to sell food, and last year serviced 18,000 residents in the community. UCare is a partner in the program, called Twin Cities Mobile Market.

Having better food produced dramatic results, Worcester says. One resident who previously could only buy food from vending machines was able to buy healthier food from the buses and lost about 70 pounds, meanwhile reducing the number of medications she was taking daily from seven to just one.

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