Beyond Health Care: The Role of Social Determinants in Promoting Health and Health Equity

Beyond Health Care: The Role of Social Determinants in Promoting Health and Health Equity

Key Findings
Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age that shape health. This brief provides an overview of social determinants of health and emerging initiatives to address them. It shows:
Social determinants of health include factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care. Addressing social determinants of health is important for improving health and reducing longstanding disparities in health and health care.

There are a growing number of initiatives to address social determinants of health within and outside of the health care system. Outside of the health care system, initiatives seek to shape policies and practices in non-health sectors in ways that promote health and health equity. Within the health care system, there are multi-payer federal and state initiatives as well as Medicaid-specific initiatives focused on addressing social needs. These include models under the Center for Medicare and Medicaid and Innovation, Medicaid delivery system and payment reform initiatives, and options under Medicaid. Managed care plans and providers also are engaged in activities to identify and address social needs. For example, 19 states required Medicaid managed care plans to screen for and/or provide referrals for social needs in 2017, and a recent survey of Medicaid managed care plans found that almost all (91%) responding plans reported activities to address social determinants of health.

Many challenges remain to address social determinants of health, and new directions pursued by the Trump Administration could limit resources and initiatives focused on these efforts. The Trump Administration is pursuing a range of new policies and policy changes, including enforcing and expanding work requirements associated with public programs and reducing funding for prevention and public health. These changes may limit individuals’ access to assistance programs to address health and other needs and reduce resources available to address social determinants of health.