AMA Urges Multifaceted Approach to Address Social Determinants of Health



At the Special Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates, physicians adopted policies today to address social determinants of health as part of health insurance coverage. The disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the need to address nonmedical, yet critical, health needs and the underlying determinants of health -- economic stability, neighborhoods, transportation, education and life opportunities, access to food, quality and safe housing, community/social support, and access to health care.

The new policies build on the AMA's pursuit of greater health equity by identifying and eliminating inequities through advocacy, community leadership and education.

"Addressing social determinants of health requires an all-hands-on-deck approach that is not limited to stakeholders within the health care system. By addressing social determinants of health in their benefit designs and coverage, health plans can be part of the effort to improve patient health outcomes," said David H. Aizuss, M.D., a member of the AMA Board of Trustees.

Some states have creatively used Medicaid funds, and Medicare Advantage plans now have greater flexibility to cover nonclinical services to address beneficiary needs in housing, food and transportation.

The House of Delegates adopted the following policies:

  1. The AMA, recognizing that social determinants of health encompass more than health care, encourage new and continued partnerships among all levels of government, the private sector, philanthropic organizations, and community- and faith-based organizations to address non-medical, yet critical health needs and the underlying social determinants of health.
  1. The AMA support continued efforts by public and private health plans to address social determinants of health in health insurance benefit designs.
  1. The AMA encourage public and private health plans to examine implicit bias and the role of racism and social determinants of health, including through such mechanisms as professional development and other training.
  1. The AMA support mechanisms, including the establishment of incentives, to improve the acquisition of data related to social determinants of health. With the gaps and inconsistencies in data pertaining to social determinants of health, policy makers are without the research needed to determine how best to integrate and finance nonmedical services as part of health insurance benefit design.
  1. The AMA encourage pilot programs to test the impacts of addressing certain nonmedical, yet critical health needs, for which sufficient data and evidence are not available, on health outcomes and health care costs.