Chief Medical Officer Dr. Margaret-Mary Wilson discusses social determinants of health for seniors

January 24, 2023 | 6 min Read
  • During a recent Axios event, Dr. Wilson talked about UnitedHealth Group’s holistic approach to health in Medicare Advantage.

As part of an Axios event on Jan. 24 about health outcomes and care options for seniors, UnitedHealth Group Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President Dr. Margaret-Mary Wilson talked with Storyline Founder Chris Frates. Dr. Wilson discussed how Medicare Advantage provides a holistic approach to caring for seniors, including the impact of UHC’s HouseCalls program.

Watch the following full video replay or read below for highlights from the conversation.

How does UnitedHealth Group improve the health care experiences for vulnerable beneficiaries, seniors in particular?

“When we think about our Medicare Advantage beneficiaries, for us it’s about facilitating stable access to high-quality care that’s accessible and equitable.

“The Medicare Advantage population is more diverse than the Medicare fee-for-service population. About half of Black seniors and about half of Latino seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. [Medicare Advantage beneficiaries are] also lower income, so about half of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries earn less than $25,000 a year. Lowering the cost of care is important, and Medicare Advantage has shown it does that by decreasing 40% of the out-of-pocket costs.”


How does your HouseCalls program work and what’s its impact on seniors’ health?

“The HouseCalls program involves a nurse or an advanced practice clinician going into a beneficiary’s home for a free evaluation that takes about an hour. And it involves both a physical examination and an environmental scan of the home and the patient’s natural environment. This comes together to enable a detailed health risk assessment that also covers social determinants of care, so it’s a holistic approach.

“In 2022, we conducted over 2 million HouseCalls. Then 1 million of the people we visited, we screened for undiagnosed conditions, and 1 of every 4, had a disease condition that they had not previously been aware of. It doesn’t stop there. Three quarters of those people were able to follow up with an in-person office visit with their primary care practitioner within 90 days.”


Why is it important to treat a patient holistically and what does it actually look like in practice?

“It has become increasingly evident to us that health cannot just be considered the absence of disease. Health is life. It’s the way we all live. So it’s really important that we take a comprehensive approach to it and consider social factors that impact that. And that’s the added benefits of the Medicare Advantage program. It covers benefits that aren’t provided in fee-for-service, so things like transportation, nutritional support, dental, hearing.

“We look at food, for example, and addressing food insecurity [for seniors], which is a really significant issue. In 2021, we delivered 4 million meals to our Medicare Advantage patients. And we also provide meals after patients have been discharged from the hospital to support their recovery. In 2023 we’re expanding this and are offering 14 meals after a Medicare Advantage beneficiary has been discharged.”