Why did Aetna choose to pursue racial and ethnic equality initiatives?
As one of the nation’s leading health plans, Aetna’s members represent the country’s increasing diversity in race, ethnicity and language. We are committed to improving services for preventive health, early detection and disease management for health conditions commonly seen in specific racial or ethnic groups. Efforts to reduce disparities in health care could ultimately improve care and reduce overall health care costs.
How can Aetna hope to influence such a pervasive problem in our country?
Aetna has taken a leadership role in finding and implementing solutions to the problem of health care disparities and for 10 years has been a catalyst for change. In addition to creating our own initiatives to fight disparities among our members, we encourage researchers at the nation’s top academic institutions and engage community-based organizations to address variations in health status and health care delivery among racial and ethnic populations. We also work closely with numerous national health care organizations that have identified racial and ethnic disparities in health care as an issue that needs attention and action.
In addition, the Aetna Foundation has been working to address the high rate of infant mortality among African-American women and has awarded several research grants that help women from vulnerable populations have full-term pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. Last year, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation awarded $1.24 million in grants to support efforts to promote health equity.
Why should employers be concerned about addressing the health care needs of a diverse workforce?
The face of America's workforce is changing rapidly as our nation's population of ethnic and racial minorities continues to grow. Providing employees of all racial and ethnic backgrounds with access to quality health care benefits and resources can help them stay healthy. Employers, in turn, will benefit from increased productivity, lower absenteeism and, possibly, lower health care cost increases.
What can employers do to help reduce disparities in health care?
The most important step employers can take is to encourage their employees to voluntarily provide information on their race and ethnicity – to both their doctor and their health plan. Certain races and ethnicities encounter certain diseases and conditions at higher rates.
Employees should make sure their doctor knows their racial and ethnic background in order to provide the best medical care. Additionally, racial and ethnic information is important to a person’s health plan. Such data can lead to the development of specific initiatives that improve the health of people of various backgrounds based on their risks for certain conditions.
How is racial and ethnic data used?
We use information our members voluntarily provide to create our Racial and Ethnic Equality Dashboard (REED) report. Data leads to insight about member health needs, which strengthens our ability to develop targeted initiatives. It is important to note that Aetna uses this information ONLY to improve the quality of care for our members and NOT for rating, underwriting, determining insurability, marketing or premium determinations.
Specifically, Aetna uses information our members voluntarily provide to:
Does Aetna have a confidentiality policy concerning race, ethnicity and language?
Yes. Member privacy is paramount. We have developed strict policies and procedures to protect member information — including race, ethnicity and language preference information — from inappropriate use and disclosure.
What will it take to close the racial and ethnic divide in health care quality?
The issue of health care disparities is immensely complex, but there are targeted solutions that can help us bridge the gap. Emphasis must be placed on encouraging healthy lifestyles, timely screenings, accessible medication and regular care. Also, language and cultural barriers must be eliminated. At the very least, patients must be given tools that help them to speak more confidently and effectively with their health care providers so that they can take greater control of their health and well-being.
How will you know when you have been successful?
In the past, health plans like Aetna have not systematically collected data on race and ethnicity. Success of our initiatives will be achieved if we can:
In the end, true success will come when our members achieve improved health outcomes as a result of our targeted initiatives and programs.