By Leslie Small

If there’s any upside to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it has laid bare what both the country and health care organizations need to prioritize moving forward, suggested two keynote speakers during the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) National Conference on Medicare, Medicaid & Dual Eligibles, which was held online from Sept. 14-17.

“I really do hope that we don’t just look at this as a fire to be put out, but we look at it as a real opportunity to address some underlying kindling that was there,” VADM Jerome Adams, M.D., the U.S. Surgeon General, said during a Sept. 14 panel. A major part of that “kindling,” he said, are the stark disparities in social and economic conditions experienced by different racial and ethnic groups across the country.

The factors contributing to those disparities are numerous, Adams suggested, but they all relate to the social determinants of health. For instance, Adams pointed out “only one in five African Americans and one in six Hispanic Americans has a job that allows them to work from home” to reduce their exposure to the novel coronavirus.

The health insurance industry, like the country at large, now has an opportunity to fix some of the problems that caused the pandemic to do so much damage, Adams argued. “As insurers, have the courage to crack some eggs and to think about how we restructure these systems, and use COVID-19 as the wind in your sails to do that,” he advised the AHIP conference’s virtual audience.

Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard, meanwhile, said during a Sept. 14 question-and-answer panel that the pandemic has sharpened his focus on the core principles that guide his company.

“It reinforces the deep need for purpose and values inside your organization, because when you’re in a situation like COVID, if you don’t have that, then you run your business by policies and procedures, and so on, and you can’t rewrite policies and procedures in a time of change,” Broussard said.

Having a concentration in Medicare Advantage also helped shape Humana’s response to the crisis, since such plans are already reimbursed in a way that rewards taking a whole-person approach to health care, according to Broussard.