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Leading critical conversations on health equity and access

The ACT-IAC Health Innovation Summit is an annual event that highlights how advancements in technology continually provide greater value and better outcomes in healthcare. Maximus was a sponsor of this year’s event focused on building a stronger and more resilient health ecosystem post-pandemic, and convened leaders from government, industry, academia, and medicine for important conversations about what’s ahead.

During the event, Maximus’s own Elizabeth Smith, Senior Vice President, Federal Health Strategy, and the industry co-lead for the program led a discussion on health equity and health access, touching on the various inequities present in our healthcare system, how to define and achieve true health equity, and how to eliminate health disparities nationwide.

Joining her were:

  • Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive for the State of Michigan, Chief Deputy Director for Health in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and member of President Biden's COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force
  • Dr. Kimberly Myers, Principal & Lead Client Service Partner for Health & Science Non-Profit, Deloitte Consulting LLP
  • Secretary Courtney Phillips, MD, Louisiana Department of Health
  • Dr. Kyu Rhee, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Aetna at CVS Health

Together, the group discussed the intentional and important focus on this topic and commended ACT-IAC on including it on the day’s agenda. The group of diverse medical practitioners and scientists, from varied backgrounds and ethnicities, talked about their personal connection to health access and equity, and the moral imperative of addressing these issues as quickly as possible as a society.

The group explored the systemic and economic drivers of inequities in healthcare and how the pandemic exacerbated some of the challenges facing disadvantaged communities. Panelists shared their experiences working to address these challenges in their communities ─ from enhanced community outreach to innovative public health campaigns to better metrics and reporting ─ and the real-world impacts of those efforts.

The conversation also included the importance of defining health disparities and inequities and then defining what health equity really looks like. They shared experiences about bringing together leaders in government, health, and advocacy to improve access to care ─ in some cases, starting with just gathering the data and information necessary to build data-driven public health solutions.

Specific to COVID-19, panelists talked about the challenges of delivering vaccines to groups historically marginalized and without access to providers. They shared how their community outreach efforts drove increased vaccination rates in their communities, and how they are turning the tide on this critical public health initiative.

Elizabeth prompted the panelists to share stories about what the pandemic taught them or surprised them with regard to health equity. Dr. Khaldun, an African American female physician, shared a story about how a patient in the emergency room, who was a person of color, told her that he listened to her guidance about mask-wearing after seeing her on television. To her, she said, this reinforced the importance of representation and diversity in leadership positions ─ ensuring that those who are guiding strategy and who are visible in public communications can drive incredibly impactful outcomes.

Dr. Myers shared that, to her, there wasn’t much that surprised her about the pandemic, specifically the disproportionate and heartbreaking statistics about COVID-19’s rates of infection and death, and its impact on life expectancy among communities of color. Dr. Phillips agreed but noted that the number of people who were surprised by those numbers creates an opportunity to have real, productive conversations about the presence of health inequality, how we got here, and how we can do better. We have to utilize the momentum from this, she said, or we’ll just “be where we are.”

Dr. Rhee talked about how inequality is a function of what we value. He noted that, as a nation, we have such a huge opportunity to create value-based care; care that incorporates gratitude, resiliency, and trust ─ using language that avoids blame for inequalities and promotes things like collaboration and the value of preventive care.

From the broader perspective, panelists agreed that healthcare in America, and the disparities that exist, include more than just medical care. It’s about housing, education, access to healthy choices, as well as opportunities to work and gain health coverage. The holistic picture of all of the things that contribute to an individual’s health includes so much and addressing each one can help drive equity for all.

Collaboration and intentionality were major themes of the session, with panelists talking about the need to identify and convene organizations that are having great success and then ensuring their approaches are shared and implemented in communities most in need.

Concluding the conversation, Elizabeth asked the panelists to define success in health quality and to put some time horizons and short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals to their definitions.

The group shared things like well-executed vaccine rollouts and the need to replicate those successes on other critical health needs. They pointed to the need to rebuild our public health workforce and making it reflect the diversity of the populations it serves. They talked about the need for bold, upstream actions across the full suite of social determinants of health; without which inequities will persist. The group also addressed the shared responsibility for public health, with Dr. Rhee noting that “we are all public health.” Public-private partnerships have had success and there needs to be more of that, he said.

We agree. As a company that touches millions of people every day regarding their health and related benefits, we are focused on ensuring equity and access to healthcare for all of our citizens. 

Learn more about the Maximus Public Health portfolio and our work to help ensure government can best serve all people.