How Businesses Can Help Improve Access to Primary Care

Many Americans face barriers in accessing primary care services. Here’s how businesses can collaborate and help advance health equity for all.


Air Date: December 3, 2021

Moderator: Katie Mahoney, Vice President, Health Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Latricia Boone, Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Anna Vredenburgh, Manager, Health Care and Retirement Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Dr. Lauren Lyles-Stolz, Health Legislative Assistant for Congressman Brad Schneider, U.S. House of Representatives, Nebeyou Abebe, Senior Vice President of Social Determinants of Health, Highmark Health, Hope Miller, Senior Vice President, HouseCalls Clinical Operations, Anne Yau, Vice President, Social Responsibility and External Affairs, UnitedHealth Group

Having access to consistent, effective primary care is associated with positive health outcomes, including management of chronic conditions and reduced mortality. Unfortunately, there are multiple barriers that prevent many Americans from accessing this care, leading to greater overall health disparities.

With a combination of government policy and engagement from the business sector, however, our nation can work toward a more equitable system that supports positive health outcomes for all Americans.

Social Determinants of Health Highlight Barriers to Care

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the environmental conditions — including economic stability, access to high-quality education and health care, and the neighborhood’s built environment — that affect a range of health outcomes.

“The social determinants of health are the barriers to health,” said Dr. Lauren Lyles-Stolz, health legislative assistant for Congressman Brad Schneider. “Whether that’s broadband infrastructure issues [outside of the city], transportation issues, health literacy issues — all of these create these barriers to improve health care and positive outcomes for patients.”

To mitigate these barriers, Lyles-Stolz has supported Schneider’s work with the Primary and Virtual Care Affordability Act, which would extend telehealth access and waive deductibles. Additionally, the recently-passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will ensure all Americans have access to high-speed internet.

“By providing these services, especially having that flexibility in telehealth, it helps keep the workforce and employees healthier,” Lyles-Stolz added. “Those factors help mitigate against employees being absent from work, [and they’re] feeling better about their healthcare [and] being more productive.”

How Businesses Can Support Better Health Outcomes

Though legislation is vital in increasing the accessibility of primary care, businesses also play a critical role in supporting their employees’ health. Lyles-Stolz encouraged company leaders to provide the necessary education about their health care plan products.

“Make sure [your health services] are clear, and provide it to your employee base in a comprehensive and self-explanatory manner,” she advised. “Then, just listen to your [employees] … [and] collaborate with people in the private sector and the public sector to continue to work on these sustainable solutions.”

Many businesses are already working to improve health outcomes within their communities. This process begins with understanding the needs of the people they serve and the barriers they face, then connecting them to the necessary resources to overcome those challenges.

“We started a travel program … [for] rural areas with nurse practitioner shortages,” said Hope Miller, senior vice president of clinical field operations at HouseCalls. “We complete a social determinants of health assessment for every single member … [then] connect members with community-based organizations to help close the gap.”

Community outreach has been key to the work of Highmark Health, specifically in their Thrive18 initiative developed in collaboration with Pittsburgh-based organization Project Destiny.

“Many people don’t access primary care because they just don’t trust doctors [or] the healthcare system,” explained Nebeyou Abebe, senior vice president of social determinants of health at Highmark Health. “[Project Destiny] has hired community health workers who are directly engaging households and individuals … to reach the most vulnerable segments of the community.”

“We’ve seen very promising early results with respect to reductions in total costs of care, ED visits, and overall life improvement,” Abebe added.

Why Cross-Sector Collaboration Is Key to Advancing Health Equity

The responsibility of advancing health equity doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one industry or field — there must be collaboration among organizations and government agencies across sectors.

“These are thorny issues and partnership is key,” noted Anne Yau, vice president of social responsibility and external affairs at UnitedHealth Group (UHG). “It all starts with aligning on wanting to make a community healthier … [and then] building trusting relationships around shared objectives.”

To that end, UHG has partnered with several organizations — from Children’s National Hospital in D.C. to Valle de Sol Community Health — to connect children in underserved communities to the physical and behavioral health care they need.

“We’ve certainly seen this in bringing together local government, the business community [and] the non-profit sector ... across the country to address community-specific health challenges,” Yau said. “We need to break out of our silos a little bit … [because] having a healthier community isn’t good for anyone; it’s good for everyone.”