Ask a health care organization what its top priority is today, and many will say health care equity. But when it comes to creating real change, lip service won’t cut it, one executive said.
“This is virtue signaling,” SCAN Health Plan CEO Sachin Jain said in a recent interview. “It’s fashionable to say you care about it. After the killing of George Floyd, how many health care organizations said, “We support Black Lives Matter?” They said they were going to make big changes in their strategy. They said they would make large donations.
While it’s important to show support for reducing health disparities, health organizations need to establish clear and specific goals to really move the needle, Jain added.
“It’s humbling to see how many people are now interested in this issue,” he said. “But I also think we have a culture in health care where we’ve told ourselves that change is harder than it is, that it has to be slow, that it has to be gradual, that change has to be preceded by intense dialogue and consensus building. I think that’s where we have a leadership gap. This is where we really complicated some of these issues.
“I think more and more organizations need to just say, ‘We’re going to reduce the number of African-American babies who are born low birth weight. We will reduce readmission rates for the population where it is higher.”
Another executive echoed Jane in a recent interview.
“Health equity is a buzzword that everybody uses, and a whole bunch of people have chief health equity officers. But the real work is looking at the actual actions,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, CVS Health’s Chief Health Equity Officer. “It’s not that important how many programs you’ve run. How do you actually build this into your business solutions? Honestly, how are the incentives for the people who work at your company? How are incentives aligned with the goals of reducing inequality?’
Both SCAN Health Plan and CVS Health have identified key areas in which they seek to create change. Long Beach, Calif.-based SCAN targets cholesterol medication adherence among Hispanic members, diabetes control among Hispanics and flu vaccination rates among black members, Jain said. For these purposes, the organization commits itself executive compensation for their success in eliminating differences. The health plan also has a medical group for people experiencing homelessness and recently launched a Medicare Advantage plan for LGBTQ+ members.
In Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health, meanwhile, is focusing on three key areas: women’s health, heart health and mental health, Haldoon said. While she said the retailer is still ironing out specific strategies, CVS Health recently announced that its new initiative reduced suicide attempts among Aetna members by 15.7% in 2022 compared to 2019.
“We’re still developing our strategies there,” Haldoon said. “But we’re thinking about how do we leverage, for example, our MinuteClinic, our digital footprint with our Medicare members? So we’re really looking at how to lean in and how to actually see improved health outcomes and reduce disparities in those particular areas.
The company has also made several investments in affordable housing, most recently in Bel Air, Kansasand Seattle.
For Jane, one lesson he has learned in fighting health disparities is that there is always more to do.
“You can almost never do enough in this space,” Jane said. “When you’re trying to undo 350 years of societal wrongs, you don’t do it by setting one goal with one goal. That’s not how it’s done. But I really think you have to take it one issue at a time and start moving forward, start changing the values of an organization.
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