The CEO of a company often called the future of healthcare explains why health insurers want to cover your rent

Courtesy Kaiser PermanenteKaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson at a farmers market in Maryland.
  • Healthcare companies are looking for new ways to keep Americans out of the hospital. One approach: covering housing expenses.
  • The efforts are part of a increased focus on the “social determinants of health,” or the external factors like your environment or socioeconomic status.
  • Bernard J. Tyson, the CEO of healthcare company Kaiser Permanente, said companies like his are in the best place to take on programs like covering housing expenses.
  • “We can clearly show the returns from the way we are organised,” Tyson told Business Insider.

Health plans are looking at new ways to keep their members healthy.

But increasingly, that has less to do with doctor’s visits, and more to do with covering housing, food, transportation, and other less obvious factors that play in a role in your health. In May, healthcare company Kaiser Permanente committed $US200 million to reduce homelessness, and UnitedHealth Group has a similar affordable housing initiative.

While it might feel like affordable housing falls a bit outside healthcare companies’ purview, Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson has an explanation.

“We can clearly show the returns from the way we are organised,” Tyson told Business Insider. That’s especially the case for Kaiser Permanente, a 70-year-old nonprofit health system and insurer based around the US on the West Coast and through the Mid-Atlantic region.

Because Kaiser Permanente is both the insurer and the one caring for those covered by that insurance, it’s organised to keep its members healthy. Members pay monthly premiums, which in turn cover their healthcare that they use within Kaiser Permanente’s network. The healthier its members stay, the less Kaiser Permanente has to ultimately spend on the more costly aspects of healthcare, like emergency room visits. The company’s model is a favourite of Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charlie Munger and others who see it as the future of healthcare in the US.

Kaiser Permanente’s efforts are part of a increased focus on the “social determinants of health,” or the external factors like your environment or socioeconomic status. But Tyson said, the concept’s been on Kaiser’s mind for a while.

“In our mission, our forefathers make it clear that we exist for members and communities,” he said.

In addition to its housing initiative, Kaiser Permanente does this by sponsoring healthy programs, funding events like farmers markets in communities that might not otherwise have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Kaiser Permanente also works with schools to teach resilience – coping mechanisms for managing stress and tough situation – and setting up gardens. And three years ago, Tyson hired a chief community health officer who’s tasked with looking out for the 60 million people who live in Kaiser Permanente’s communities and figuring out what the priorities are for each community – health-related or otherwise.

“We go upstream to say what’s happening up here that determines what’s going to happen down there,” Tyson said.

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