When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced their vision, working with others, to build a Culture of Health in America, they knew it would require a transdisciplinary evidence base. Recently, the Foundation, in concert with AcademyHealth and other partners, has been holding conversations with experts in diverse fields to review the Culture of Health evidence base and identify opportunities to move that evidence into action.

For instance, many organizations are beginning to explore the potential return on investment from activities to improve population health. While many businesses may shy away from investing in population health—perceiving that the ROI might occur downstream or in the “wrong pocket”—others are acknowledging that investing in community health can be good business. For example, UnitedHealthcare’s (UHC) Community and State division focuses on their low-income members, including those eligible for Medicaid or dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare. In working with these vulnerable populations, UHC witnessed the tremendous effect of factors outside the health care system, such as housing, on the health and well-being of their members. In response, they developed the myConnections pilot program, which provides strategic and tailored investments to improve individual outcomes in UHC communities.

Yet the myConnections program isn’t limited to only UHC members. These services, including those that connect individuals with social supports like housing, banking, and transportation, are available to all members in the UHC pilot communities. And while these investments align with UHC’s corporate social responsibility priorities, they may also generate a positive return on investment. Given the level of churn in the health insurance marketplace, UHC realizes that an investment in the communities in which they serve is an investment in a current, a past, and/or a future member, and ultimately that healthy communities mean healthier members.

Other employers are also beginning to recognize the importance of investing in health beyond their corporate walls. To better understand the business case for private-sector investment in health, RWJF recently announced eight research studies as a part of their Engaging Businesses for Health project, managed by AcademyHealth. Over the next two years, these grantees will help to build the empirical evidence base to inform the business case for investing in community health and well-being.

The grantees will examine the dynamic relationship between the innovation and drive of American businesses and entrepreneurs and the needs and health of the communities that support them. Topics range from how poor community health outcomes negatively influence anchor companies to how labeling and incentives can be used to change consumers’ healthy food purchasing behavior. Other studies will provide evidence on the value of employers’ investments in the health and well-being of workers and their communities and inform strategies and best practices for engaging businesses to contribute to building a Culture of Health.

The business community understands that they are not isolated from the communities and markets in which they operate. In fact, businesses contribute to their communities’ greater well-being through their policies, resources, and incentives, while the overall health of communities can contribute to a business’s viability, performance, and priorities. But can the business case for private-sector investment in health be quantified? Stay tuned! AcademyHealth will be working with each of the Engaging Businesses for Health grantees to ensure that findings make their way to business leaders and other decision makers to inform their health strategies and investments. 



Megan Collado, M.P.H.

Director - AcademyHealth

Megan Collado is a director at AcademyHealth, where she manages a number of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gra... Read Bio