AmeriHealth Caritas is creating a business unit to address factors that affect patients' health outside of the healthcare system, the health insurance company announced Tuesday.
The subsidiary is named Social Determinants of Life and it will focus on improving patient outcomes by providing assistance for non-medical needs. Health insurance companies have become increasingly aware that disadvantages such as poverty, lack of access to housing and environmental issues can worsen patients' health and drive up costs, and have been experimenting with ways to maintain wellness and prevent illness in vulnerable populations.
Social Determinants of Life has already invested $29 million in Redwood City, California-based startup Wider Circle, which is building peer-to-peer social networks and hyper-local health programs. AmeriHealth Caritas is committed to accelerating promising work, the company said.
AmeriHealth Caritas joins a growing number of insurers with social determinants of health programs. CalOptima invested heavily in providing housing to homeless Medicaid beneficiaries in collaboration with a not-for-profit temporary housing services provider. Another Medicaid carrier, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, has a partnership with West Orange, New Jersey-based integrated system RWJBarnabas Health that identifies enrollees and connects them to social workers.
Though there's an increased focus on social determinants of health, evidence that these initiatives can alleviate widespread inequities has not yet accumulated, despite demonstrated successes with approaches such as connecting with patients early in life or providing financial assistance.