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Evolving the Definition of Health

The definition of physical health has long meant the absence of disease coupled with traditional measures such as blood pressure, height, and weight.  We know now that the vast majority of what makes us healthy — up to 80% of our health outcomes — is often the result of our unique circumstances and daily experiences. A new definition of health is emerging — one that considers and addresses all the factors that drive health. Elevance Health is dedicated to broadening our approach to health because when more of us understand the physical, behavioral, and social drivers of health, we can have a greater collective impact on the health of our communities and the nation.

“We’ve infused this whole health approach into every aspect of our business,” says Elevance Health Chief Health Officer Dr. Shantanu Agrawal. “People cannot be healthy without a roof over their head. Our Housing Flex Fund helps members behind on rent make payments so they can stay in their homes. We created Changing Pathways because we know that effective recovery from opioid use disorder requires medicine along with peer support. In some areas of the country, people travel for a full day to see a healthcare professional. We established scholarships to encourage new graduates to practice in rural communities. This is just the beginning.”

Throughout the Whole Health 2021: Impact Report are examples demonstrating our approach and dedication to whole health. We continually fortify our whole health approach with learning from research and studies that highlight the opportunities available to improve health for all.

Reinforcing the Whole Health Message through Benefit Offerings

Elevance Health has long been committed to investing in the whole health of our associates, and in 2021, we offered a new health plan benefit that provides financial assistance to help meet some of the most common social needs that affect health. The Life Essentials Kit gives select associates the option to choose to offset the cost of childcare, transportation, or nutritious food, as part of their health plan.

Associates who participate report having reduced anxiety, increased productivity, higher job satisfaction, and healthier diets. The program has helped Elevance Health reduce our medical costs by 10% and emergency room use by 15%. We’ve taken this benefit to key customers and are currently evaluating the potential effectiveness of the program for their employee populations. The Life Essentials Kit, when added to our industry-leading portfolio of behavioral health benefits, reinforces our ongoing focus on whole health as business imperative.

Research Fortifies the Need for a Broader View of Health

Two pieces of research in 2021 underscored our ongoing dedication to whole health. To increase awareness of the social drivers of health, we introduced What’s Driving Our Health. This study examines the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play (the social drivers of health) that affect a wide range of quality-of-life and health risks and outcomes. The study confirmed nearly half (46%) of respondents were unaware of the importance of the social drivers of health. Building awareness of the social drivers is one aspect of our community health strategy, which also prioritizes partnerships with community-based organizations and investments via the Elevance Health Foundation.

We developed the State of the Nation’s Mental Health report to better understand how mental health challenges and substance use disorder concerns are affecting those we serve. Physical separation from friends, family, and colleagues brought on by the pandemic produced feelings of isolation and made very clear how mental and physical health are closely intertwined. The report found a concerning disconnect: people experienced higher rates of mental distress, but diagnosis rates didn’t change in 2020. While this could have implications for the nation’s long-term mental health, there was also encouraging news. More than two-thirds of providers surveyed said their patients were more willing to proactively bring up mental health conditions during appointments. The report’s findings make clear how a public health crisis — even one that directly impacts physical health — can impact mental well-being in ways that must be addressed.

Taking a whole-health approach means evaluating the social and behavioral drivers of health in equal measure with physical drivers. For all of us to be and live healthier, it’s vital we have a healthcare system that takes a broader view.

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