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Social Determinants Of Health: What’s Happenin’ On The Hill?

Social Determinants of Health: What’s Happenin’ on the Hill?

| Dr. Erin Yelland | Kansas State University |

I recently attended a Congressional Briefing on the Social Determinants of Health to learn more about what is happening at the national level regarding the social determinants (for a refresher course on the social determinants, see my last blog post here – federal policies are a big part of this equation). So, what’s happenin’? Turns out, quite a bit! And the future is expected to be bright as the 117th Congress begins next month.

One of the biggest bills to watch out for is the ‘Social Determinants Accelerator Act’. You can see the bill here, but the gist is that the bill will provide grants and technical assistance to various entities in order to “improve the health and well-being of those participating in Medicaid”. An audience that Cooperative Extension reaches? Yes. An audience that we need to reach more often? You betcha.

This bill, and others, are expected to be re-introduced to the 117th Congress and many members of the House and Senate who support this bill expect that something will be passed by the end of the 117th’s term. There is “strong bipartisan support” and many national organizations have signed on to support the effort.

Some other main takeaways:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has helped shine a very bright light on the social determinants of health; “many elected officials are now taking notice of how the social determinants have disproportionately affected their constituents” during this pandemic. Silver lining perhaps?
  • According to the presenters, the Biden-Harris administration has “a focus on health equity”; stay tuned as the administration transitions.
  • Some of the major topic areas that were identified as foci were: transportation, housing, poverty, environmental justice, food insecurity and access, maternal mortality, access to affordable higher education, and access to quality, affordable health care – all with an emphasis on underserved audiences, particularly minorities, people of color, and Tribal Nations.

Last but not least…you’ll want to read this one:

  • There is “an appetite to have conversations at the federal level” on the social determinants and the main driving factors is…”money – particularly return on investment and savings that proposed legislation will provide”. Only one out of the five staffers (though they all didn’t respond to this question) identified health outcomes as the main driver. Ouch.

So, there’s what’s happenin’. I’m looking forward to seeing what bills will be introduced and how they will positively influence the social determinants.  

TL;DR: The social determinants of health are gaining the attention on the hill, there is bipartisan support, and there is strong hope that the 117th Congress and the Biden-Harris administration will make progress – particularly regarding health equity. The main driving factor…money (return on investment and savings).  

[Photo by Caleb Perez on Unsplash]

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