The Health Insurance Funder Using Data to Improve Community Health

 Yaoinlove/shutterstock

Yaoinlove/shutterstock

The Anthem Foundation recently made $23 million in grants to more than 100 nonprofits across the country to improve health in communities. This health insurance company’s foundation is using a data tool that maps the prevalence of health issues on top of social and environmental factors that influence health to figure out what to target and where.

The grants are part of the company’s Healthy Generations initiative, which uses data to figure out the most common health issues in each state and determine the underlying causes. The focus is on addressing preventable health complications before they arise. The latest gift brings the total active grants Anthem has made in communities to $53 million.

This type of initiative is becoming more common among funders interested in public health. Even as private health foundations increasingly look upstream to address the root cases of poor health, the number of health insurers doing this kind of work through their philanthropy is also on the rise.

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The financial incentives are there. Insurers will save money if better public health practices reduce the prevalence of expensive health problems like heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Healthier people are good for the bottom line.

What’s probably most interesting in Anthem’s case is its use of data. The Anthem Foundation uses the Community Health Management Hub, which collects and maps various kinds of information, such as nutritional data, the presence of local healthcare options, and the prevalence of specific health issues.

The Hub “not only provides a snapshot of what health issues are being reported in our communities, but why we’re seeing those health trends,” an Anthem Foundation spokesperson said. “Additionally, by layering resources such as nonprofit partners, providers, grocery stores, and public transportation routes, we are able to better understand the needs and provide solutions.”

The data comes from a number of sources, but it’s important to note that, according to foundation, none of the information comes from Anthem, Inc., or its work.

The Hub allows the foundation to drill down to the zip code level to determine which health issues are most common and what possible root causes are present. Armed with that information, Anthem makes its investments. With help from the Hub, Anthem can see what the most pressing health issues are in a community and pin down the likely culprits. The data allows for more precise and—Anthem is betting—more effective giving.

More data-mapping tools and projects like this one are cropping up lately in philanthropy. The most notable recent example is in the economic mobility field. A new institute at Harvard University called Opportunity Insights recently received millions in funding for its data-driven efforts to address economic inequality.

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So far, the institute’s signature work is the Opportunity Atlas, which uses census data to map economic mobility by neighborhood. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is a big believer in using data to better understand local health patterns, helped fund the Atlas. The data isolates neighborhoods that are outliers in their ability to promote economic mobility for families. Advocates study those neighborhoods for clues to what’s driving this success and then attempt to replicate those conditions elsewhere. The Opportunity Atlas has become central to a data-driven initiative to fight poverty funded by Bloomberg, Gates and the Ballmer Group.

Data has become so central to how companies work, it’s not surprising to see data-driven work crop up in corporate philanthropy. It’s part of a broader trend within corporate giving, which is becoming more interested in complex, entrenched problems and big strategic bets to solve them. In short, corporate philanthropy is starting to look a lot more like institutional philanthropy. Anthem’s focus on upstream determinants of health and its use of data is part of that bigger context. Here, as with other corporate giving, there’s a clear opportunity to address a major societal problem in ways that may also boost the long-term bottom line.

So where has the Hub’s data led Anthem? Through the Healthy Generations initiative, the foundation works on a mix of upstream causes and downstream challenges. Its big concerns deal with preventing heart disease, early births, cancer and diabetes. The foundation supports those efforts through funding programs that encourage healthier lifestyles, access to affordable healthy foods, stress management, understanding nutrition, and prenatal care and education for expecting mothers.

This round, Anthem gave the majority of grants to work with kids. That work includes programs that address the “social determinants of health,” as those root causes are often called. About $7.8 million of the $23 million will go to nonprofits and programs that work with children. That includes Fit4Kids, an organization based in Richmond, Virginia, that has a educational garden program that brings fruits and vegetables to public schools.

It’s giving about $3.9 million to programs that work with adults. There’s also an emphasis on upstream work with this set of grants. Grantees in this area include Camillus House in Florida, which works with homeless with mental health and substance abuse problems. The foundation also gave funds to the National Council on Aging, which provides healthy aging programs to older adults in underserved communities.

Of the remaining funding, it gave $3.9 million to disabilities and behavioral health issues, and another $5.3 million to support prevention and treatment of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And it gave a little more than $2 million to other causes like responding to disasters and improving access to care.


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