Ask any healthcare organization what their top priority is today and many will say healthcare equity. But when it comes to creating real change, lip service isn’t going to cut it, said one executive.
“It’s a virtue signal,” said Sachin Jain, CEO of SCAN Health Plan, in a recent interview. “It’s fashionable to say that you care about this. Since the murder of George Floyd, how many health organizations have said, “Are we with Black Lives Matter?” They said they would make major changes to their strategy. They said they would make big donations.”
While it’s important to show support in reducing health disparities, health care organizations need to set clear and specific goals to actually move the needle, Jain added.
“It’s humbling to see how many people are now concerned about this issue,” he said. “But I also think we have a culture in healthcare where we’ve told ourselves that change is harder than it actually is, that it has to be slow, that it has to be incremental, that change has to be preceded by intense dialogue and Consensus building.I think this is where we have a leadership gap.This is where we have really overcomplicated some of these issues.
“I think more and more organizations just need to say, ‘We will reduce the number of African-American babies who are born with a low birth weight. We will reduce readmission rates for populations where it is highest.’”
Another executive echoed Jain in a recent interview.
“Health equity is a buzzword that everyone uses, and a whole bunch of people have health equity directors. But the real work is looking at the real stock,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief health equity officer at CVS Health. “It’s not so much how many programs you’ve launched. It’s actually how you’re incorporating this into your business decisions. How, frankly, are the incentives for the people who work at your company? How are the incentives aligned with the goals of reducing inequality?
Both SCAN Health Plan and CVS Health have identified key areas that are looking to create change. The Long Beach, Calif.-based SCAN addresses medication adherence for cholesterol medications in Hispanic members, diabetes control in Hispanic members, and flu vaccination rates in Black members, Jain said. For these goals, the organization is tying up remuneration of executives to their success in eliminating inequality. The health plan also has a medical group for people suffering from homelessness and has recently launched a Medicare Advantage Plan for LGBTQ+ Members.
Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health, meanwhile, is focusing on three key areas: women’s health, heart health and mental health, Khaldun said. While it said the retailer is still working out specific strategies, CVS Health recently announced its new initiative reduced suicide attempts among Aetna members by 15.7% in 2022, compared to 2019.
“We are still developing our strategies there,” Khaldun said. “But are we thinking about how to leverage, for example, our MinuteClinic, our fingerprint with our Medicare members? So we’re really looking at, how do we lean into and how can we actually see better health outcomes and reduce disparities in those particular areas.
The company has also made several investments in affordable housing, most recently in Bel Aire, KansasAnd Seattle.
For Jain, one lesson he has learned in fighting health inequalities is that there is always more to do.
“You can almost never do enough in this space,” Jain said. “When you try to undo 350 years of societal wrongs, you don’t do it by setting a goal with a goal. That’s not how you do it. But I think you need to take one problem at a time and start making progress, start changing the values of an organization.
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