The greatest barriers to better health are not always clinical issues, but rather social and financial barriers, such as access to safe and affordable housing, according to Ellen Sexton, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin.
Sexton recently joined Milwaukee-area health care organizations, advocates and local officials during a Wisconsin Health News panel discussion focused on how to improve access to affordable housing and its impact on overall health.
“Recently, UnitedHealthcare announced it surpassed $400 million in investments in new affordable housing as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to remove social barriers to better health for people in underserved communities,” Sexton said. “We have invested in 80 affordable-housing communities across the U.S., and here in Wisconsin we recently had a ribbon cutting ceremony for an affordable housing community we helped finance in Madison. We plan to have another ribbon cutting in July to celebrate an affordable housing community we helped finance in Milwaukee.”
UnitedHealthcare provided $5.4 million in equity funding for the Madison project and gave $6.3 million for the Milwaukee development. The investments are part of the company’s efforts to redefine healthy living by helping address social determinants of health. The panel also focused on the importance of partnering with socially minded organizations that understand the value of good health, and how public-private partnerships can help make a positive impact in the community.
Sexton mentioned a pilot program launched last year with the Milwaukee County Housing Division where UnitedHealthcare is covering all housing costs (rent and utilities) for 11 individuals currently on Medicaid with high, complex medical conditions in an effort to reduce their emergency room utilization.
The individuals are some of the highest utilizers of emergency room services in Milwaukee County. In the six months prior to enrolling in the program, the 11 individuals had 270 emergency room visits and 70 inpatient stays. Six months into the pilot, they have had seven emergency room visits and only 21 inpatient stays.
“Housing is just one part of UnitedHealthcare’s commitment to redefine healthy living for the uninsured and underserved in our communities,” Sexton said. “We are also investing in programs and partnerships focused on food, transportation and social isolation in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin.”