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Social determinants shown to reduce healthcare spending

Those results add to evidence showing support for social service programs can improve community health outcomes and reduce healthcare spending.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Social determinants of health are not just a nice-to-have way of cozying up to patients. 

Hospitals and provider organizations can reduce spending substantially when they connect people to services that address social determinants of health, such as secure housing, medical transportation, healthy food programs and utility and financial assistance, according to new research.

Conducted by WellCare Health Plans and the University of South Florida College of Public Health, Tampa, and published in Population Health Management, the study assessed the impact of social services among Medicaid and Medicare Advantage members on healthcare costs such as physician office visits and emergency department use.

The findings saw an additional 10 percent reduction in healthcare costs – equating to more than $2,400 in annual savings per person – for people who were successfully connected to social services compared to a control group of members who were not.

Those results add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that support for social service programs and interventions can improve community health outcomes and reduce healthcare spending, especially among Medicare and Medicaid populations who are often challenged by social determinants of health.

The study examined medical expenditures associated with 2,718 WellCare Medicaid and Medicare Advantage plan members who accessed WellCare's Community Assistance Line -- a toll-free, nationwide line open to the general public. Participants called the line between January 1, 2015 and March 1, 2016 and identified at least one unmet social need, receiving at least one referral to a social service organization. Program representatives followed up with all participants to confirm if their identified social service needs had been met.

Researchers then compared the medical claims data of those who reported that their social service needs were met to a control group of those who reported their needs were not met. In looking at two years of data -- one year before the referral and one year after the referral -- the authors found an additional 10 percent reduction in healthcare costs for those who were successfully connected to social services.

This research is the second in a series of studies being conducted by WellCare and USF on the impact addressing social determinants of health has on both a member's health outcomes and associated healthcare cost savings.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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