“Zip code can be more impactful than genetic code”: Regence discusses importance of health equity at virtual panel

By Regence
November 18, 2022
SDOH panel

Main image: Regence’s Michael Ann Benchoff (right) at a SmartBrief virtual panel entitled Combating Social Determinants of Health: From Awareness to Action

Many of us think of personal health as being driven by healthy (or not-so-healthy) habits and family histories. Studies show, however, that up to half a person’s health outcomes are driven by what are known as social determinants of health (SDOH) – non-medical factors in a person’s environment that affect their health and well-being. This includes nutrition, housing, transportation, employment and access to affordable health care, among other important areas.

Michael Ann Benchoff, assistant director of health equity programs at Regence, recently spoke at a virtual panel of experts to share how the health plan supports members based on SDOH and barriers to care. “A person’s zip code can be more impactful than genetic code in achieving their full health potential,” said Benchoff. “It makes sense then to approach health care from a person-in-environment perspective – considering barriers to care and then designing services and interventions that take those barriers and other social drivers into account.”

For Regence to ensure health care access and quality for our members, we have to consider the social and community context. It’s about thinking beyond how long it takes to travel for a doctor appointment – this includes other contributing factors, such as whether a member can find a provider who can understand their cultural background and personal needs; or whether a member has broadband access where they live so they can use virtual care versus traveling to a brick-and-mortar doctor’s office.

Using data to change how Regence operates, partners and pays for care

During the panel, Benchoff emphasized that addressing SDOH is an opportunity to be more inclusive and design a system that performs better for everyone. This requires changing the way the health plan operates, partners and pays for care to reduce disparities and advance health equity, both in terms of serving individuals as well as changing systems and structures.

To best serve Regence members, we have to understand them, what’s really going on in their health care journeys, and what they need to reach the best health possible. More robust and actionable data is a critical component, noted Benchoff, specifically demographic data to identify and address disparities. Regence is invested in building out demographic data capabilities, particularly our SDOH insights, and has had successes. During the initial COVID-19 vaccination efforts, for example, the health plan was able to quickly identify our most at-risk members and communities to ensure equitable vaccine access.

For SDOH, Regence uses a composite social risk score that’s assigned at the member level to help identify who may benefit from more supports. This includes data at the community level, household level and what members report through sources like health risk assessments. The challenge is having standardized and interoperable data standards as well as streamlining where and how data collection occurs to make it easier for individuals. Data can then be used to coordinate care across systems, identify barriers and more.

Working with provider partners in different ways is also critical. This includes the role of value-based and alternative payment arrangements, as well as strategic partnerships to address specific barriers to care. For example, Regence has teamed up in certain areas with DispatchHealth, a mobile urgent care solution that helps address transportation barriers and unnecessary emergency room visits – improving affordability for everyone.

Driving a simpler, personalized and more affordable health care experience – for all walks of life

Regence views SDOH efforts as an opportunity to align social and health care in a coordinated system to support the whole person. This requires the health plan to enable diversity in treatment, in providers, and in models of care to meet members’ personal needs.

Our award-winning Customer Service team is available to help Regence members access care when and where it’s needed, at the best possible price. Members can sign in to their account at regence.com to explore health plan benefits, search for in-network providers and more. We’re also available to help online through live chat and the message center, or members can call us at the number listed on their Regence member ID card.