Senators Say Factors Like Lack of Housing, Hunger, Unemployment, and Education Have Far More Impact on Health than Availability of Medical Care and Treatment

WASHINGTON, D.C. [08/6/20]—U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said today that factors like unemployment, hunger, lack of affordable housing, and education have far more impact on Americans’ health—especially in communities of color—than just medical care and treatment. On Wednesday they introduced legislation designed to study the role these “social determinants” play in exacerbating health inequities and to invest in addressing them.

The Senators said that medical treatment accounts for only 10 to 20 percent of an individual’s overall health, while other social determinants of health (SDOH) account for the other 80 to 90 percent. Their Improving Social Determinants of Health Act of 2020 would authorize the Centers for Disease Control to begin work on improving health outcomes and reducing inequities by investing in the efforts of the federal government, and of public health agencies and community organizations to address the adverse impact of SDOHs

You can read more about the bill here.

“It’s striking how poor health outcomes—especially in communities of color—are exacerbated not only by a lack of medical care, but more importantly by living without a safe place to call home, a job that supports a family, good schools, and enough food on the table,” said Senator Smith. “Far too often our communities of color are hit hardest by these inequities and we’ve seen how that has adversely impacted them during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure I’m introducing with Senator Chris Murphy would seek to better understand how we can address these social determinants to improve the health of families and communities.”

“COVID-19 has taken a particularly horrific toll on communities of color. It’s exposed the structural inequities ingrained in our health care system and should be a wake-up call to fix these injustices—fast. People of color already have a hard time accessing quality health care, affordable housing, and healthy food in their communities—otherwise known as social determinants of health—and are hardest hit by growing levels of poverty and unemployment,” said Sen. Murphy. “I’m teaming up with Senator Smith to introduce legislation that begins to address these health disparities by providing grants to local groups that are working together to better health outcomes for those in need.”

"Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) congratulates Sen. Smith and Sen. Murphy on the introduction of the Improving Social Determinants of Health Act of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the conversations our country is having about racism and racial justice, spotlight the social and economic conditions that contribute to an individual’s health and how a community’s resources directly impact the health outcomes of its residents,” said John Auerbach, President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health. “This legislation would empower public health departments and community organizations to act as chief health strategists in their communities. It is an important next step in improving health outcomes, reducing healthcare spending and addressing health inequities. TFAH is proud to support this bill and urges Senate support.”

The measure, endorsed by more than 195 organizations across the country, would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a program to improve health outcomes, reduce health inequities, and improve capacity of public health agencies and community organizations to address SDOHs. This legislation will:

  •       Coordinate across CDC to ensure programs consider and incorporate social determinants of health in grants and activities.
  •       Award grants to state, local, territorial, and Tribal health agencies to address social determinants of health in target communities.
  •       Award grants to nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education to conduct research on best practices for addressing the social determinants of health.
  •       Coordinate, support, and align social determinant of health activities at the CDC with other federal agencies.
  •       Collect and analyze data related to social determinant of health activities.
  •       Authorize $50 million annually for program activities.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Senators Angus King, (I-Maine), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

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