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Addressing Social Needs to make Health Care More Affordable

By Patrick Conway, MD, MSc | March 1, 2018 | Industry Perspectives, Drivers of Health

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As a practicing physician, I’ve seen how investments to improve early childhood development and address social determinants of health lowers costs and improves health outcomes. One big question in health care today is “How can we make it more affordable?” 

There are some obvious answers:

  • Making sure hospitals and doctors are paid to keep people well, not for the number of people they admit or tests they run.
  • Clear pricing information so people know what they’re paying for, and how much they’re paying for it.
  • Using the bulk of your premium to pay for care. Blue Cross NC spends 80 cents of every premium dollar on health care.

One less obvious, but equally important answer is to address health-related social needs. Recently, we announced that Blue Cross NC would be investing $50 million into the community focusing on these four areas:

The Opioid Epidemic

In North Carolina, the opioid epidemic carries a $21 billion economic cost. Statewide, three people die every day from an opioid overdose. For every death, there are nearly three times as many hospitalizations and, and four times as many ER visits. The impact of this crisis is felt by every North Carolinian in their medical bills and insurance premiums.

Early Childhood Development

A person’s health is directly related to early childhood development. Investments in early childhood development are effective in fighting costly adult chronic diseases such as hypertension, stroke, and diabetes, improving health outcomes, and leading to healthier behaviors. By investing in the health and wellness of North Carolinians when they are young, we can make health care more affordable and improve health outcomes and lives for the long term.

Social Determinants of Health

Health care is an important factor in someone’s health – but it isn’t the only factor. A person’s well-being is also determined in part by where they live, what they eat, and what they do. Safe homes and neighborhoods, food security, and education all play an important part in determining a person’s overall wellness. North Carolina ranks as the 8th most insecure food state in the country, and nearly one-in-three children is overweight or obese. When social needs go unmet, it leads more hospital admissions and emergency room visits. As a physician, I can educate my patients about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, but if they don’t have transportation to a grocery store, or a safe neighborhood to walk in, then they can’t do what they need to improve their health. To bring costs down, we need to think more broadly about what it means to invest in health.

Primary Care

Health care costs are lower when people have a primary care doctor overseeing their care. In fact, in the U.S., we would save $67 billion a year if everyone used a primary care doctor as their usual source of care. However, not everyone has easy access to a primary care doctor or clinician. 20 North Carolina counties do not have a pediatrician. 70 of our 80 rural counties are classified as “medical deserts” due to their lack of primary care. Increasing the number of primary care doctors, especially in rural areas across North Carolina, would help make health care more affordable for everyone.

At Blue Cross NC, we know that health care costs are too high, and as a result, the premiums you pay for your health insurance are also too expensive. Making investments that will make health care more affordable in the long run is just one of the many steps we’re taking to address it. Our mission is to improve the health of our customers and communities in North Carolina.