UnitedHealthcare Aims to Apply “More Equitable Lens” on SDOH Grants

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VP of social responsibility says the health insurer wants to “broaden our scope a little bit” and factor in community voices.

UnitedHealthcare is looking to put “a more equitable lens” on one of its flagship programs for addressing the social determinants of health (SDOH).

The program, called Empowering Health,” is an “invite-only” program that has awarded $40 million in grants since launching in 2018. Organizations are invited to apply for the funds and awards are based on an internal review by company officials, explained Olivia Jefferson, vice president of social responsibility, in an interview today that was part of an announcement that the program has awarded another batch of grants totaling $11.4 million.

“We are currently undergoing a process to look at our grantmaking approach through a more equitable lens and thinking about transparency and also thinking about who gets access to our grants,” said Jefferson. The results will affect how the company goes about making the SDOH grants next year.

“We know that they (the grants) are invite-only,” she continued, “but we also want to make sure we are broadening our scope a little bit in terms who has access to our grants (and) who we know in those communities.”

Jefferson said UnitedHealthcare also wants to “make sure we have opportunities to build in community voices into our process.”

Today’s announcement listed 17 states and the District of Columbia and the total amount awarded to the organizations in those states. The organizations that received funds were listed in state-by-state press releases. Food banks, federally qualified health centers, chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and a variety of programs for mothers and infants were among the grantees; for example, Urban Baby Beginnings in Virginia received $250,000 to support training, certification, mentoring and collaboration for community-based doulas of color.

Jefferson said food insecurity was a focus of the grants this year because the problem was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other priorities were maternal mortality, access to behavioral health and programs that address multiple SDOH issues together. “We know that social determinants of health are interconnected,” Jefferson said. A staff member cited a Capital Area Food Bank program in Prince George’s County, Maryland, that delivered boxes of nutritious food to new mothers and their children and gave the mothers incentives for well visits as a program that addressed overlapping SDOH issues. The food bank received $225,000 this year to run a similar program in northern Virginia.

Jefferson said the Empowering Health program works with UnitedHealth’s business unit leaders in the markets where the company does business to identify organizations that might be candidates for Empowering Health funding. The program also factors in health needs based on the data for those markets. Jefferson said her group has “deep conversations” with potential grantees and makes site visits. Applications are reviewed by in-house subject matter experts and her group, she said, and scored.

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