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New Programs Seek To Address Social Barriers To Care

posted by AHIP

on November 20, 2019

As we increasingly understand the impact of social factors on people’s health, health insurance providers are seeking – and finding – new ways to have a positive impact on the health of their members from this broader perspective.

A lack of access to transportation and stable housing are both tangible barriers to care, making it difficult or impossible for patients to prioritize their health or visit their care providers.

If a lift is the problem, perhaps a Lyft is an answer.

Transportation challenges prevent 3.6 million people from accessing medical care each year. It is estimated that patients who don’t (or can’t) attend their appointments cost the U.S health care system approximately $150 billion each year. Missed appointments also impact providers, who lose the chance to care for their patients.

Rideshare benefits are one way that some health insurance providers are working to help their members overcome a lack of access to reliable transportation. In fact, in October 2019, Uber Health announced a partnership with Cerner to make the rideshare company’s non-emergency health transportation services available to providers that use their electronic health records technology.

In early 2020, Florida Blue will begin offering members of their Affordable Care Act individual plans rides to their doctor visits via a partnership with Lyft.

Why now? New CMS rules allow for non-emergency transportation and are enabling Medicare Advantage plans to address these discrete barriers to help their members access the care they need when they need it.

There’s no place like home.

Health insurance providers are also increasingly addressing the lack of access to affordable, safe housing, and its impact on care. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, for example, is investing in housing and related support for homeless and vulnerable people in Chicago. People with a stable home are better able to manage their health.

For their part, Denver Health is partnering with the Denver Housing Authority to build affordable senior housing to  support hospital patients who are ready to be discharged, but may have nowhere else to go. In addition to helping people who need housing, the plan would free up hospital beds and resources for acutely ill patients.

Kaiser Permanente has invested millions of dollars in its Thriving Communities Fund, which is committed to preventing and reducing homelessness, and creating affordable housing.

It’s easy to see why more health insurance providers are taking this approach: The evidence is in their favor. A 2018 RAND study evaluated a Los Angeles County Department of Health Services program that moved people off the streets and into supportive housing. After one year in the program, participants spent 75% less time in the hospital and made 70% fewer emergency room visits. The county found that they saved $1.20 for every dollar spent on housing.

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