The Heart Of The Matter: Social Factors Impact Heart Health

posted by AHIP

on February 3, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 18 million Americans have coronary artery disease. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, heart disease is still the leading cause of death, killing about 655,000 Americans each year. And while overall rates of death in the United States from heart disease have  been on the decline for years, racial and ethnic minority populations continue to experience increased risk.

American Heart Month, celebrated during the month of February since 1964, focuses on prevention of heart disease. Reducing stress, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet are a sound foundation for heart—and overall—health. Social factors play a significant role in a person’s ability to make these healthy choices and access quality health care. A new study in Circulation found that the sheer number of social determinants (including race, poverty, and economic instability) impacting an individual can increase their risk of dying from heart disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated not only the health of those who contract the disease but has had tremendous financial and social impact on millions of people. Food insecurity, for example, has more than doubled from 2019 levels to 23% of households.

Researchers from Northwestern University examined data from 1999 through 2018 and found that people living in counties with greater social barriers to health experienced higher rates of death from heart attack and stroke. This new geographical view into the impact of social factors on health reinforces the value of plans and programs that work within local communities.

Here are a few examples of how health insurance providers are engaging:

AllWays Health Partners created the iHeart Champion program to help high-risk patients reduce their cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of a heart attack. The program combines close medical management, advanced data analytics, and health coaching to help patients focus on a healthy lifestyle.

Horizon BCBSNJ and their foundation are making investments in community partnerships and initiatives to study and address social justice and barriers to health that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority populations.

Aetna has expanded their Medicare Advantage plan benefits to address social determinants of health, including providing telehealth services to ease members’ access to both primary and urgent care. Some plans will also include a Healthy Foods debit card and food allowance to help address food insecurity for members.

In 2020, Molina Healthcare launched the National Molina Healthcare Social Determinants of Health Innovation Center, which studies public and member data to learn about social factors that impact overall health and design programs and benefits to address gaps for members.

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