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Benefits plans: tangible tools to address health equity issues
Published April 9, 2021
Chief Medical Officer at CVS Caremark®
From left: Tammy Lewis, Chief Marketing Officer for CVS Caremark; myself; Dr. Glenn Pomerantz, Senior Vice President of Health Services at Gateway Health; and Juli Galloway, Vice President for Global Benefits at AT&T.
The past year unleashed unprecedented challenges for all of us in health care. Amid tremendous tragedy and disruption, the need to deliver equitable, accessible care was more critical than ever — and sadly, the pandemic laid bare the deep-rooted, historic disparities facing underserved populations. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, communities of color have experienced more severe illness and higher mortality rates, along with a host of economic challenges.
Regrettably, many of these disparities will far outlast the pandemic — particularly regarding chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. As we shape the future of health care delivery, it will be critical to build durable, long-lasting solutions enabling more equitable health care access.
This week, I had the privilege of discussing how to do just that with two industry leaders: Dr. Glenn Pomerantz, Senior Vice President of Health Services at Gateway Health, and Julianne Galloway, Vice President for Global Benefits at AT&T, during the CVS Caremark first-ever virtual Client Forum. Our discussion sparked this provocative question from the audience: “Do you view benefits as a form of compensation or an equity issue?”
Simply put, the answer is: both. Employers, government agencies and others who provide health coverage have a unique opportunity to help address the impact of race, ethnicity and gender on their members’ health outcomes. At the same time, demonstrating leadership in addressing health disparities enables employers to attract and retain top talent.
We discussed numerous ways that employers, government agencies and health plans can work together to help increase access to care among traditionally disadvantaged populations. Here are just a few examples:
- Providing transportation to and from medical appointments
- Empowering retail pharmacies to provide a broader range of services
- Providing financial support for sustainable housing and healthy meal delivery
- Sponsoring on-site, workplace-based wellness clinics, screenings and vaccinations
CVS Caremark provides prescription drug benefits for one in three Americans. Because patients visit the pharmacy more frequently than any other health care setting, we are in a unique position to help counter systemic inequities.
Our robust data analytics help our employer and health plan clients better understand care gaps within their member populations and develop customized solutions to close them. A prime example is our work in improving flu vaccination rates. Our data models predicted, with 91% accuracy, which of our members were unlikely to seek out a flu vaccine — and why. Some simply needed a reminder; others had questions about safety or efficacy; and still others worried that getting a vaccine would be inconvenient or costly. We used data to predict where specific members fell across these categories and to tailor relevant content using the delivery method — text, phone or email — most likely to motivate them. This approach has raised vaccination rates across the board.
Building on this success, we’re using expanded data and analytics to help clients better understand the extent of health disparities within their population — and how they can address those gaps. We’re building a data layer incorporating more than 400 data points from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Census Bureau and other critical sources. The resulting data will allow us to expand our capabilities in health care disparity reporting, tailored medication management and delivery, and improving medication affordability, all while identifying increased opportunities for community partnerships.
Moving from simply understanding that care gaps exist to using data to pinpoint ways to close them is critical in waging an effective fight against health disparities. Because employer- and government-provided benefits play such a critical role in our health system, we believe employers and health plans have a key role to play in advancing health equity. After all, employees are more than just employees — they are people living in communities who face historical, systemic challenges and barriers to care.
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