Addressing Social Determinants of Health

By Ken Burdick

Imagine not having enough food to feed your family or no transportation to get to your doctor or local pharmacy. Consider what it would be like to live isolated without access to friends, family or support community.

This is a reality for millions of Americans impacted by so-called social determinants of health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these are the “conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age and include the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” Further research from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates medical care accounts for only 10 to 20 percent of health outcomes; the rest can be attributed to individual behavior and social, environmental and genetic factors.

A few fast facts:

  • Social factors account for 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. each year.
  • Social isolation can increase the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.
  • Poorer neighborhoods have higher rates of obesity, likely due to safety concerns and barriers to physical activity and healthy foods.
  • 25¢ of every healthcare dollar is spent on health conditions that result from changeable behavior.

So how do we help individuals overcome social barriers to live better, healthier lives

I’ve posed this question to the healthcare community in U.S. News & World Report.Logo

At WellCare, I’m proud we’ve taken an active role to identify social services in communities and connect underserved individuals with needed support. To date, as part of our CommUnity Impact program, we’ve created a database with more than 200,000 social resources across the country. Each year, we field more than 100,000 calls to help address requests for food, medication assistance, medical transportation, utilities assistance and more.

But we can’t do this alone.

What ideas do you have to advance the conversation for this growing, underserved community?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Brighten, eyes, teeth

Kenneth A. Burdick is the CEO of WellCare Health Plans

4 thoughts on “Addressing Social Determinants of Health

  1. connect users of the “a database with more than 200,000 social resources across the country.” to build community around place and need.


  2. I’m really proud to work as a case manager for Wellcare. I can testify first hand that I help improve people’s lives daily by connecting them with needed resources for food, transportation and housing. These community resources are a vital part of people’s health. I recently submitted an idea. I have offered to become a certified tobacco cessation specialist. I’d like to offer classes to our members around the state of Kentucky. I do believe people can make great changes to improve their health.
    I know there are some existing resources that already provide this service and I do encourage people to utilize these. I’ve really thought about whether this is something that is worthwhile for Wellcare to pursue. The best argument for this: it costs only $800.00 and 8 weeks (of training at The University of Ky. For me to become certified; it’s aligned with our mission to offer the service as we provide Healthy Reward incentives for quitting ; and – this is the best- if I help even 1 Wellcare member become a non-smoker ( and I’d love to help hundreds) I’m certain Wellcare would recoup that $800.00 in no time via health cost savings! So, not to put you on the spot Mr. Burdick, but if you’re willing to pursue a small investment in such a program, I’d love to try it.


    1. Lets say someone truly needed help with these services, how would one go about getting that help? Or who would they contact ? This is solely a question to seek help for a friend TRULY in need that’s pregnant with her first child, living in a motel room at which she works at for NO PAY, only for the room she stays in.


      1. WellCare’s CAL operates Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST. To contact the line for assistance, please call 866-775-2192 (main line) or 855-628-7552 (video relay).


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