Social determinants of health comes up frequently in health policy news. Here are quotes from six stories that caught my eye over the last few months.

1. Google’s life-extension spinoff teamed up with Ancestry to study 54 million family trees — and learned that a surprising factor helps determine how long we live, Business Insider, November 10, 2018:

Genealogy and DNA site Ancestry once partnered with Google’s stealthy life-extension spinoff, a company called Calico, to study the genetics of longevity.


The new study suggests that our genes play less of a role in how long we live than previously believed.


Instead, traits and behaviors that include everything from diet and exercise to friendliness appear to play a strong role in longevity.


But surprisingly, we still pass these traits on through generations — mostly by picking partners who look and act like us, the researchers suggest.

2. Doctors propose new diagnosis: ‘Unable to pay for prescriptions,’ Bloomberg, April 2, 2019:

Now the biggest U.S. insurance company and the country’s most influential association of doctors want to create new ways to better capture information about patients’ social conditions. It’s part of a shift in the health-care industry to address aspects of people’s lives that influence their well-being beyond medical care, so-called social determinants of health. […]


Among the more than 20 new codes under consideration:

  • unable to pay for prescriptions
  • unable to afford child care
  • worried about losing housing
  • unable to count on family and friends
  • feeling unsafe in current environment

3. Why high rents are a health care problem, Curbed, April 3, 2019:

Commissioned by Enterprise Community Partners Inc., a national affordable housing nonprofit, the survey found that more than half of renters surveyed delayed health care because they couldn’t afford it, and 100 percent of medical professionals surveyed said they had dealt with patients in the past who expressed concerns and anxiety about affordable housing. When these doctors and nurses advised patients to reduce stress, 92 percent of them said financial issues were their biggest stress trigger.

4. Hospitals want readmissions program to account for social determinants, Modern Healthcare, May 25, 2019:

Hospitals are moving ahead with efforts to address social determinants to avoid penalties in the readmissions program with varying levels of success. For instance, Beaumont Hospital in Wayne, Mich., implemented a process to identify social determinants that has helped slow readmission rates, said Dr. Sam Flanders, chief quality officer for Beaumont Health. A social worker now rounds in the family medicine department to assess patient needs and help inform staff what actions need to be taken both in the hospital and when the patient leaves.

5. Commentary: Academic hospitals have an obligation to heal communities, Modern Healthcare, May 25, 2019:

At the same time, 75% of academic medical centers are located in areas considered underserved, home to people who struggle with housing, employment and educational achievement. Our gleaming hospital buildings can be reminders of what our neighbors don’t have.

Just as we have an obligation to fulfill our traditional mission, we also have an obligation to our neighborhoods. Because of our community standing and our increasing knowledge of the social determinants of health, we should be conveners, organizers, underwriters and partners in our cities. Housing, workforce training and public safety should be parts of our mission.

6. AHIP launches social determinants initiative, Modern Healthcare, June 20, 2019:

The initiative—called Project Link—represents the health insurance industry’s “commitment to addressing social determinants of health and how we can make a really important difference,” AHIP CEO Matt Eyles told reporters at the annual AHIP Institute & Expo in Nashville, Tenn.

Project Link is meant to build on the social determinants-related work that health plans have been doing independently for the last several years. It involves a learning collaborative to bring health insurers together to discuss best practices and lessons learned in addressing social barriers to healthcare, such as housing insecurity, lack of transportation and poor nutrition.