Is There A Cheaper, More Effective Way to Address Health Problems?

When it comes to health care, we’ve got a spending problem. According to a study published in The Lancet this year, the United States spends more on health care–$9,237 per person—than any of the 184 other countries included in the study[1].

Unfortunately, high spending has not led to better health. In fact, we’re ranked 12th in life expectancy among the 12 wealthiest industrialized countries[2].

Is it possible we’re spending on the wrong things when it comes to improving health? A whopping 88 percent of our national health dollars are spent on clinical medical care. And yet 70 percent of our overall health is actually driven by socioeconomic factors like access to safe housing and nutritious food–not medical care.[3]

What would happen if we redirected our focus, putting 70 percent of health care dollars into things like housing and food?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Root Cause Coalition’s 2nd Annual National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health. The Root Cause Coalition is a group dedicated to addressing what’s at the root of health disparities (i.e. the differences in health between those with and without access to food, shelter, and/or other basic needs).

It was incredibly energizing to be surrounded by 400+ passionate leaders—including health care providers and representatives from other community-based organizations—who join me in believing a person’s socioeconomic status shouldn’t determine whether or not they survive their disease.

When Project Angel Heart was founded 26 years ago, our goal wasn’t to reduce health care costs. It was purely and simply to feed people. But over the years, we’ve evolved. In the early days, we’d have an occasional client tell us they were able to stay out of the hospital because of our meals. Today, we have thousands of client testimonials and data that shows Project Angel Heart clients spend less on medical care, are better able to stick to their prescribed treatment plans, and have better health outcomes.

We will always be here to feed people… providing meals made with love, just like that first pan of lasagna divvied up among our first 12 clients. But we’re incredibly excited to know that those meals made with love are also improving the health of our clients and our community. Stay tuned…we’ll soon be sharing results from a study of Project Angel Heart clients that demonstrates just that.

[1] Dieleman, Joseph et al. (2017). Evolution and patterns of global health financing 1995–2014: development assistance for health, and government, prepaid private, and out-of-pocket health spending in 184 countries. The Lancet , Volume 389 , pp. 1981-2004.
[2] https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/u-s-life-expectancy-compare-countries/?_sf_s=life#item-start 
[3] Bipartisan Policy Center, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/projects/lots-lose 


Erin Pulling, Project Angel HeartErin Pulling is president and CEO of Project Angel Heart, where she has served in a variety of roles since 1995. In addition to providing leadership and strategic direction for the organization, she serves on the boards of the Colorado Nonprofit Association and the Dining Out for Life International Association. She is the recipient of a Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Livingston Fellowship, the Colorado Restaurant Association’s 2012 Outstanding Professional award, and the Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 honors in 2008. Erin lives in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood with her husband and their three children. Erin enjoys late-night, random cooking projects that often go horribly wrong, early morning runs, backpacking, and playing ridiculous and imaginative games with her kids.

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