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Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Miguel, who lives near Morristown and is without health insurance, noticed his eyesight was worsening and heard about the free monthly eye screenings provided by the Morris County Organization for Hispanic Affairs (MCOHA). The disease found by a doctor during that screening could mean permanent blindness for Miguel if left untreated. A case manager with MCOHA connected him with specialists and helped him identify a way to pay for his care so he could have the operation. Today, Miguel’s vision is healthy and  he owns a successful graphic design business.

With a new $500,000, multi-year grant Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) is helping MCOHA address social determinants of health through programs like the one that saved Miguel’s sight and others like it that are helping Hispanic and low income residents better understand their health care choices and obtain health services that will help them lead healthier lives.

Addressing social determinants of health to “create social and physical environments that promote good health for all” is one of the four goals established by the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services in Healthy People 2020, its ten-year blueprint for improving the health of all Americans.  Horizon BCBSNJ is increasing collaboration with groups like MCOHA and investing in initiatives with that same goal in mind.

“MCOHA is a vital resource for all Morris County residents. Our vision is to inspire hope and help build communities that promote cultural heritage while ensuring that everyone is respected, self-sufficient and engaged in making a difference,” said Xiomara Guevara, MCOHA Executive Director. “MOCHA is dependent on grants, fundraising events and donations to help the traditionally underserved residents who are the focus of our efforts. Horizon’s commitment to partner with us over the next five years gives us the resources to invest in programs that will have long-lasting impact not just on the individuals we’ll be able to help, but by improving the overall health and health literacy of the entire community.”

Formed in 1976, MCOHA is a non-profit organization with three Morris County locations (Dover, Morristown, Butler) serving 12,000 Morris County residents each year. Roughly 90% of its clients are considered either poor or low-income. The grants will be used to increase access to health care, improve health literacy, and to address language, cultural and/or educational barriers to achieving good health.

“Horizon has worked to reduce the number of uninsured in New Jersey and is proud to have been recognized for initiatives that are helping connect Hispanic residents with information about healthcare coverage. We approach the health of our members holistically and that sometimes means going beyond the traditional scope of health insurance to recognize and address social, economic, and environmental factors that impact health,” said Kevin Conlin, CEO and Chairman of Horizon BCBSNJ.  “By building strong partnerships with doctors, hospitals and community organizations like MCOHA Horizon is connecting medical, social, and behavioral services to create highly integrated, multi-disciplinary teams that address these social determinants and improve New Jersey’s health system.”

“If you are Hispanic and living in New Jersey, you are twice as likely as the overall population to be uninsured.   Hispanic residents often face barriers and challenges that are unique and for them to keep their families healthy they need to understand and become empowered to act upon health information,” said Ray Castro, Director of Health policy for New Jersey Policy Perspective. “I’m impressed by MCOHA’s commitment to addressing the gaps in health programs and health literacy.  Horizon is right to recognize that social determinants are real barriers to good health and it is good to see them collaborate with organizations like MCOHA to tear down those barriers to promote the health of traditionally underserved communities.”

Programs and initiatives addressing social determinants of care were one of the priorities identified by Horizon BCBSNJ in the plan it announced in February that devotes $125 million in federal tax savings to significant health care initiatives over the next five years.  Other priorities include improving the integration of medical and behavioral health, increasing access to primary health care, and combating substance use disorders, particularly opioid abuse.

About Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state’s oldest and largest health insurer, is a tax-paying, not-for-profit health service corporation, providing a wide array of medical, dental, vision and prescription insurance products and services. Horizon BCBSNJ is leading the transformation of health care in New Jersey by working with doctors and hospitals to deliver innovative, patient-centered programs that reward the quality, not quantity, of care patients receive. Learn more at Horizon BCBSNJ is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association serving more than 3.8 million members.