This Week in Healthcare Reform: March 26th, 2021

Stakeholders collaborate on vaccine distribution and access; meanwhile, the pandemic takes a toll on mental health; hospitals face a reckoning over healthcare disparities; and, Medicaid managed care plans help address inequities.

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Week in Review

Vaccine Distribution and Access: Life under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic has taught us many things, not the least of which is that finding our way forward will require coordination of efforts drawing upon expertise, experience, scope, scale, and reach from across the healthcare spectrum.  In that spirit, stakeholders have embarked on an ambitious new collaboration that will see healthcare providers, insurers, and pharmacies work with federal agencies, state and local governments, and community organizations to connect underserved populations with the vaccines.  In announcing the initiative earlier this month, the White House said it was partnering with health insurers specifically in order to ensure that their most high-risk customers have equitable access to vaccinations, with a goal of fully vaccinating 2 million people 65 and older from vulnerable communities over the next 100 days.

Mental Health Toll: As we continue to get a sense of the full impact of COVID-19 one-year later, there’s growing acknowledgment that the toll exacted extends far beyond the physical health metrics that have come to milepost our shared sense of loss.  Beyond the numbers, we’re beginning to understand that the prolonged disruption and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus has also had a very real effect on mental health.  And, studies now show that, unlike the physical impacts of COVID, which put older age groups at greater risk of severe illness, the ancillary mental health pandemic is targeting younger age groups.  Researchers, who’ve closely monitored the devastating impacts of coronavirus-induced stress, now worry that the deterioration in mental health could, in fact, linger long after the pandemic has subsided.  This has led to increased calls by providers and advocates for expanded telehealth access and workforce development.

Hospitals and Disparities: While no one disputes the critical role that hospitals have played in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, what’s unfortunately come to light is the role they’ve also played in institutionalizing the historic healthcare disparities that have been exposed in the wake of the public health crisis.  Beyond just COVID-19, what has been laid bare are the stark health inequalities that have disproportionately impacted communities along racial and socioeconomic lines.  Health systems and their leaders are facing something of a reckoning, and, to their credit, have acknowledged the roles and responsibilities that their organizations have in helping to close those gaps in unequal health outcomes – relative to the coronavirus and generally, going forward, including calling for more affordable housing, investments in diversity hiring, and a greater focus on underserved communities.  Apart from that, there is increased emphasis on making health equity metrics an essential component of hospital rankings.

Medicaid Managed Care: As it relates to healthcare disparities, Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) have increasingly shown themselves to be well-positioned to help better address these inequalities in access and health outcomes.  Across a broad range of measurements – including, social determinants of health (SDoH), local infrastructure, and technology – MCOs have demonstrated an ability to confront the health inequities impacting some of the most vulnerable populations.  Examples include leveraging data to identify and target communities particularly afflicted by SDoH.  Additionally, infrastructural investments in housing, food, and transportation have opened up non-medical avenues of care that can lead to improvements in whole-person health.  And, telehealth and other remote technology supports have connected patients in rural and other underserved areas with the kind of care that makes a difference.


A new study points to greater consumer agency playing an integral role in decelerating health spending.

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