Wellness benefits often help bridge the gap that social determinants of health tend to create. With the growing popularity of wellness benefits, more Medicare providers are prioritizing the mental, physical, and medical health of their beneficiaries. However, wellness benefits can be even more effective the more they directly address certain determinants of health. 

What are Social Determinants of Health?

The CDC describes social determinants of health (SDOH) as “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.” Social determinants of health are things like where people are born, and someone's income and neighborhood. Social determinants of health are often out of personal control, yet they make a large impact on one’s health. 

These aspects of one's life often determine if one can live a healthy lifestyle and if one has the sole ability to improve their health. It's important to promote health equity by including aspects of social determinants of health into conversations about wellness benefits. These aspects include:  

Health Care Access and Quality

One major aspect to consider with social determinants of health is if a person has access to health care. Those with low income and/or no access to transportation are unable to receive the quality care they need. Without proper care, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions cannot be treated, leading to more health issues. 

According to a recent survey, 27% of older adults have less than $500 in savings set aside for medical bills. Because of this, many people also go without a primary care provider, further separating them from quality care. A wellness program should not only be based on encouraging regular doctor visits but also provide support when medical care is hard to receive. A holistic wellness program will help in improving health and reducing health disparities. 

Neighborhood and Built Environment

Sometimes, someone's neighborhood gives a disadvantage to their health and medical care. If someone does not have a quality health care facility, or a fitness gym nearby, it is harder for them to prioritize their medical and physical health. Also, low-income areas or individuals with housing insecurity may not consider their own health as a top priority. Similarly, it is not uncommon for seniors to become temporarily or permanently homebound, due to an illness or injury that restricts their independence.

Those that cannot prioritize their own health and wellness may have higher stress and an increase in poor health outcomes. Similarly, those with housing insecurity are more likely to have medical problems like arthritis, seizures, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Wellness programs can help address these needs by providing gym memberships and flexible resources that account for travel time and cost, or options that are available from the comfort of the individual’s home. Medicare providers can do this by partnering with companies like Peerfit Move. Peerfit Move aims to provide Medicare beneficiaries with access to gym memberships and fitness programs in their nearby areas as well as a large variety of online classes that provide individuals with ultimate flexibility. 

Social and Community Context 

One of the lesser talked about, but equally important social determinants of health are one’s social contexts. One's community and the way they are treated in social contexts can often be a determining factor in their physical and mental health. 

If someone is without a family, group of friends, or otherwise is without a sufficient support system, it could bring negative implications on their health. Without a support system, one can have increased depression and anxiety, and even higher blood pressure. People that are more likely to experience discrimination will also experience these health effects and increased stress, 

People of color, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with disabilities are often discriminated against, bringing more health issues. Those that experience racism are more likely to have poor mental and physical health. The CDC found that black people are most likely to have hypertension than any other racial group or ethnic group. It was also found that when those in the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities face prejudice and discrimination, they are likely to have more severe mental disorders.

Medicare providers can include and even encourage the use of mental health resources like counselors and psychiatrists. Likewise, wellness programs that are community focused can provide opportunities for members to engage with other like-minded individuals. These programs can improve one's support system through taking action to improve both their mental and medical conditions.

Go Beyond Medical Care

Medicare providers can go beyond medical benefits to address Social Determinants of Health. Providers are starting to realize the benefits of including holistic wellness programs that support overall health. 

Medicare providers will benefit from including a wellness program in their health plan when they start addressing Social Determinants of Health. Providing a holistic wellness program will help providers make the switch to value-based and patient-centered care. By addressing a beneficiary’s lack of access to quality care, carriers can save money on their overall health care costs. Medicare providers can offer plans that go beyond medical needs, and help their beneficiaries feel supported and seen.

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