Addressing racial inequities in population health

From the racial disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 to the recent spotlight on systemic racism in the United States, it’s never been more clear that we need to discuss racial inequity, especially as it relates to health. Moderated by Dr. Andrew Renda, MPH, Associate Vice President of Bold Goal Population Health Strategy at Humana, Humana’s third National Press Club virtual panel convened Dr. Patrice A. Harris, Immediate Past President of the American Medical Association; Humana’s Chief Medical and Corporate Affairs Officer Dr. William Shrank; Dr. Brandy Kelly Pryor, Senior Director of Programs at The Humana Foundation; and Shantanu Agrawal, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Quality Forum, for a conversation on the health impacts of racial inequity and racism.

“The conversations we have now and the actions we take will shape our path forward,” said Dr. Renda before he introduced the panel. “We all have biases from our life experiences. To get beyond them, we need to have difficult conversations, we need to listen and learn from different opinions, and we need to make positive change.”

Dr. Harris agreed with Dr. Renda, arguing that “The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought many issues into stark reality, two of them being health inequalities and mental health. Any conversation, debate, discussion we have about health that doesn’t include equity or mental health is incomplete. Any solutions that don’t address the broader causes of health inequities is incomplete.”

According to Dr. Agrawal, it’s clear that there are structural elements of our society that affect the health outcomes of different populations. “We can see over the last 20 years a march toward improvement among a number of different quality measures, and yet, there is demonstrated data to show that these racial and ethnic minority populations – particularly African Americans and Latinos – are lagging behind the overall general improvement in quality and quality outcomes,” he said. 

Dr. Pryor discussed the Humana Foundation’s focus on health equity and the importance of its funding toward addressing the social determinants of health, such as food security, social connectedness, and sustaining employment. Last year, The Humana Foundation invested $7.6 million with 12 local organizations across eight Bold Goal communities to address these social determinants. “At the Humana Foundation, we’re focusing on health equity and how we get specific about the social determinants of health.” said Dr. Pryor. “What were the policies, procedures and practices that allowed the isms in our community to flourish in the way that some do not have the same social needs as others and those disparities between their needs are creating different life outcomes and expectancies? So when we’re talking about the funding that we give through the Humana Foundation, it really is a life or death situation.”

Emphasizing Humana’s commitment to addressing the social determinants of health, Dr. Shrank noted Humana’s Bold Goal set in 2015 to improve the health of the communities we serve by 20% by 2020. “Over time we’ve been able to make a difference, and this year we’ve had considerable improvements in healthy days in every one of our Bold Goal communities,” said Dr. Shrank. “The events of the last month have really highlighted the fact that this can’t be an implicit process, and we can’t just focus on social determinants and believe we are addressing the holistic nature of the problems we’re seeing in society today. We need to be explicit about measuring health disparities and assessing the structural racism and pursuit of health and happiness in our membership and all Americans.”

Humana is committed to working alongside our partners to address the health disparities disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities. These difficult conversations must spur action.

Watch the full conversation here.

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