Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and founder and partner at Town Hall Ventures, talks about how venture capitalists and health tech startups can help make healthcare more affordable and accessible for the 130 million Americans beyond the “Peloton crowd.” We ask Andy if he thinks “social determinants of health” is more than just an industry buzzword, get his advice for startups motivated to make a difference, and hear his predictions for what will change healthcare in this new decade.
Filmed at J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, January 2020.
Call it what you want, white privilege and health disparity appear to be two sides of the same coin. We used to consider ethnic or genetic variants as risk factors, prognostic to health conditions. However, the social determinants of health (SDOH) have increasingly become more relevant as causes of disease prevalence and complexity in health care.
As a pediatric hospitalist in the San Joaquin Valley region, I encounter these social determinants daily. They were particularly evident as I treated a 12-year old Hispanic boy who was admitted with a ruptured appendix and developed a complicated abscess, requiring an extensive hospitalization due to his complication. Why? Did he have the genetic propensity for this adverse outcome? Was it because he was non-compliant with his antibiotic regimen? No.
Rather, circumstances due to his social context presented major hurdles to his care. He had trouble getting to a hospital or clinic. He did not want to burden his parents—migrant workers with erratic long hours—further delaying his evaluation. And his Spanish-speaking mother never wondered why, despite surgery and drainage, he was not healing per the usual expectation.
When he was first hospitalized, his mother bounced around in silent desperation from their rural clinic to the emergency room more than 20 miles from their home and back to the clinic, only to be referred again to that same emergency room. By the time he was admitted 2 days later, he was profoundly ill. The surgeon had to be called in the middle of the night for an emergency open surgical appendectomy and drainage. Even after post-operative care, while he was on broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics, his fevers, chills and pain persisted. To avoid worrying his mother, he continued to deny his symptoms. Five days after his operation, he required another procedure for complex abscess drainage.
We’ve been spending a
lot of time these past few years debating healthcare reform. First the
Affordable Care Act was debated, passed, implemented, and almost continuously
litigated since. Lately the concept of Medicare For All, or variations on
it, has been the hot policy debate. Other smaller but still important
issues like high prescription drug prices or surprise billing have also
received significant attention.
As worthy as these all
are, a new study suggests that focusing on them may be missing the
point. If we’re not addressing wealth disparities, we’re unlikely to
address health disparities.
It has been well
documented that there are considerable health disparities in the U.S.,
attributable to socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, gender, even geography, among other
factors. Few would deny that they exist. Many policy experts and
politicians seem to believe that if we could simply increase health insurance
coverage, we could go a long way to addressing these disparities, since coverage
should reduce financial burdens that may be serving as barriers to care that
may be contributing to them.
Universal coverage may
well be a good goal for many reasons, but we should temper our expectations
about what it might achieve in terms of leveling the health playing field.
I recently took care of Rosaria, a cheerful 60-year-old woman who came in for chronic joint pain. She grew up in rural Mexico, but came to the US thirty years ago to work in the strawberry fields of California. After examining her, I recommended a few blood tests and x-rays as next steps. “Lo siento pero no voy a tener seguro hasta el primavera — Sorry but I won’t have insurance again until the Spring.” Rosaria, who is a seasonal farmworker, told me she only gets access to health care during the strawberry season. Her medical care will have to wait, and in the meantime, her joints continue to deteriorate.
Migrant and seasonal agricultural workers (MSAW) are people who work “temporarily or seasonally in farm fields, orchards, canneries, plant nurseries, fish/seafood packing plants, and more.” MSAW are more than temporary laborers, though— they are individuals and families who have time and time again helped the US in its greatest time of need. During WWI, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1917 because of the extreme shortage of US workers. This allowed farmers to bring about 73,000 Mexican workers into the US. During WWII, the US once again called upon Mexican laborers to fill the vacancies in the US workforce under the Bracero Program in 1943. Over the 23 years the Bracero Program was in place, the US employed 4.6 million Mexican laborers. Despite the US being indebted to the Mexican laborers, who helped the economy from collapsing in the gravest of times, the US deported 400,000 Mexican immigrants and Mexican-American citizens during the Great Depression.
That history should provide a sobering perspective on the distinction between inevitable and imminent (a difference at least as important to investors as intellectuals), even on hot-button topics such as new data uses involving the electronic health record (EHR).
I’ve been one of the optimists. Earlier this year, my colleague Adrian Gropper and I wrote about pending federal regulations requiring providers to give patients access to their medical record in a format usable by mobile apps. This, we said, could “decisively disrupt medicine’s clinical and economic power structure.”
Three finalists for the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation Home and Community Based Care and Social Determinants of Health
Innovation Challenges competed live at the Health 2.0 Conference on Monday,
September 16th! They demoed their technology in front of a captivated audience
of health care professionals, investors, provider organizations, and members of
the media. Catalyst is proud to announce the first, second and third place
Home and Community Based Care Innovation Challenge Winners