Addressing Social Determinants As A Path To Revenue Growth

By Monica E. Oss

Over the last 15 years, there have been many pilot projects by payers, health plans, and public and private entities to address social determinants of health (SDOH). In the past couple years, we’ve heard from several health plan executives about their SDOH initiatives (see Mind, Body, Community: Kaiser Permanente’s Unique ApproachInnovation: Tag, You’re It‘Leaning In’ To Medicare: Social Needs OpportunitiesWill Investing In Social Determinants Pay OffHousing = Health: The Five Levers, and Medicaid Wants More Than Health: Be Prepared For Contract Changes). We’ve seen many new SDOH program launches by health plans—UnitedHealthcare’s recent Empowering Health grants, Humana’s Bold Goals program, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shields of New Jersey’s Neighbors in Health program, and North Carolina Medicaid’s Healthy Opportunities Pilots, to name just a few. And there are the requirements to address SDOH under new Medicaid managed care contracts in a number of states (see Medicaid Authorities & Options To Address Social Determinants Of Health).

For specialty provider organizations, the question is how to address SDOH—and find a funding stream to do just that. Previously, we outlined the two paths to adding social service supports and supports coordination to traditional service lines. One way is to add a social supports coordination element that will get more referrals or improve reimbursement under value-based reimbursement arrangements—and pay for itself as an enhanced service feature with more total revenue for existing services. The other way is to build social supports programs that health plans or government payers will reimburse—and build a new revenue stream. Whatever option an executive team chooses, return-on-investment analysis is key. I wrote recently about our six-step model for assessing the effectiveness (both proactively and in practice) of enhanced social service programming in Building An ROI For Social Service Referrals.

We heard two great case studies of provider organizations that are taking the second path— building service lines for social services with payer/health plan revenue—during the session, Incorporating Social Determinants Of Health Into Your Practice To Improve Patient Outcomes & Increase Reimbursement at last week’s 2021 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute (session recordings and decks are available at https://openminds.com/live-mbpi/sessions/ until September 27). June Simmons, President and Chief Executive Officer of Partners in Care Foundation and Karin Annerhed-Harris, Vice President, Business Development at Resources for Human Development (RHD), shared how they are working with health plans on unique initiatives to address SDOH for complex consumers.

June Simmons, President & CEO, Partners In Care Foundation

Partners in Care Foundation builds community networks to provide a single point of access for consumers. Partners in Care contracts with health plans—and sometimes with health systems—to provide care management and home and community-based social services. Their goal is to integrate all community health resources and supports into a seamless delivery system for easy access and management. Ms. Simmons said, “If you’re just referring Ms. Smith to go down the street where they provide meals, it’s one thing. But if you’re paying for something, it’s a whole new paradigm. And sometimes you’re going to have to pay for care coordination and concrete services on a targeted basis.”

Partners contracted with Blue Shield of California (BSC) in 2014 to provide SDOH services to BSC consumers through primary care practices. BSC pays Partners for specialized staff—community health advocates (CHAs)—who are trained and supervised by PIC, and embedded in medical practices. To date, Partners has trained and placed 70 CHAs in three years. CHAs assess and analyze consumer needs, work with consumers on care planning, connect them to services, follow up, and track outcomes. The relationship with BSC has grown since over time, with Partners providing a variety of SDOH-related services.

Partners also operates specialized Outreach and Engagement Centers for Anthem in California, Georgia, Colorado, and Virginia. Through these centers, they develop care plans, engage with consumers, and make sure they get the needed social services. “You can take a horse to the water but you can’t make it drink. So engagement is crucial to ensure that consumers actually use the services they are connected to and that’s why the health plans partner with experts like us.”

For health plans, the benefit is in contracting with a single entity that manages the comprehensive network of social care. Access to supports becomes easier for consumers. Data sharing between the health plan and community-based organizations is also streamlined and simplified. Ms. Simmons said, “So if you’re a health plan and want to address a certain population—maybe it’s young moms and kids, maybe it’s frail elders and keeping them out of the nursing home—are you going to go out and identify all the agencies involved, organize them, and contract with them? Or would you like a lead entity that’s going to do that for you—curate the services, qualify the agencies, be the central intake, the oversee the quality, and do the billing?” Working with a trusted local entity is a far more practical and efficient route for health plans in Ms. Simmons’ opinion. She said, “A more mature community entity can bring their neighboring health and human service provider organizations into an organized delivery system, so consumers don’t have to be referred to multiple entities.”

Karin Annerhed-Harris, VP, Business Development, Resources for Human Development

Resources for Human Development addresses food and housing needs. RHD provides outpatient and residential services for consumers with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. RHD partnered with Temple University Hospital and two managed care organizations (MCOs)—Health Partners Plans and Keystone First—to pilot the Housing Smart program. The program was intended to reduce avoidable emergency room utilization and hospital readmissions among homeless individuals through peer outreach, supportive services, and subsidized housing resources.

The MCOs agreed to criteria for eligibility and generated a list of member referrals for RHD. RHD provided the high-users experiencing homelessness with access to housing vouchers that are good for two years. The consumers were housed in apartments across Philadelphia and local food banks provided three meals a day for three months, followed by cooking classes. The pilot resulted in a 74% drop in emergency room use, 48% reduction in hospitalizations, and a 76% increase in outpatient hospital visits. And with stable housing, 12 consumers in the program are actively engaged in behavioral health outpatient services.

At the outset of the program, Temple generated a list of eligible people using target population criteria and shared that with the MCOs. They enrolled 25 high utilizers prioritizing consumers with opioid use disorder, persistent mental illness, and co-occurring physical health conditions. RHD used an MCO-funded team comprising a peer support specialist, care coordinator, and tenant services coordinator to engage consumers in services. While the MCOs reimburse for services, 36% of the program is grant funded and goes toward housing, Ms. Harris said. RHD is exploring expanded health plan funding, now that Pennsylvania allows health systems and MCOs that can save money through a value-based agreement to use the profits to fund housing.

Lessons learned—partnership, evidence-based interventions, data sharing, and more. Ms. Simmons shared the four key elements for successful integration of SDOH—strong partnerships to form a comprehensive community network of care, the capacity to deliver home-based services, the use of good screening tools to assess consumer needs and preferences, and the delivery of evidence-based interventions for SDOH.

At RHD, Ms. Harris attributes the success of their pilot to robust partnerships and collaborations (between provider organizations, a health system, health plans, and other community organizations); cross-sector tools and training; and data sharing to enable a holistic view of consumer needs, goals, and care gaps.

The takeaway for provider organization executives? As my colleague and OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Cathy Gilbert, who moderated the session, said, “Entrepreneurial provider organizations have the opportunity to package many consumer support services that were previously not reimbursable and turn them into new revenue streams in partnership with plans. Providing these services drives better outcomes for consumers and ultimately reduces overall costs.”