The Improving Social Determinants of Health Act was first introduced in July 2020. The bill was reintroduced by Rep. Nanette Barragán (CA-44) on January 21, 2021. This legislation would empower public health departments and community organizations to act as chief health strategists in their communities and lead efforts to convene partners across sectors to build integrated systems. This bill is an important step to addressing inequities in health.
Social and economic conditions such as those in housing, employment, food security, and education have a major influence on individual and community health. These conditions – often referred to as the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) – are rightfully receiving increased attention from insurance companies, hospitals, healthcare systems, and governmental agencies interested in improving health outcomes and controlling costs.
While payers and healthcare systems can screen, identify, and make referrals to other organizations for non-medical social needs, they cannot ensure that there are adequate resources and policies in place to meet the needs of the referred or that resources are equitably adopted. Currently efforts supported by health care systems are short term – such as temporary housing, and nutrition after medical discharge, or transportation – and do not necessarily address the underlying economic and social factors in communities beyond the individual patient.
Public health departments are uniquely situated to gather data from multiple sources, identify gaps in services, build collaborations across sectors, identify SDOH priorities in communities, and help address policies that inhibit health. Both the healthcare sector and the public health sector are needed to fully address SDOHs: the clinical side can respond to some individual needs, while public health is best suited to meet the needs of an entire population (as well as to prevent unmet needs in the future). The Improving Social Determinants of Health Act will increase public health’s capacity to fully address SDOH priorities.