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AHIP 2024: Common goals, common ground

Panelists stress the importance of cooperation to confront major challenges such as health equity and effective and inclusive public health.

4 min read


CDC Director Mandy Cohen talks with Bechara Choucair, executive vice president and chief health officer of Kaiser Permanente, at AHIP 2024 on Tuesday.

Courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas

Cooperation was a common theme among panelists during the first day of AHIP 2024 on Tuesday. Mandy Cohen, director of the CDC, stressed the importance of breaking down silos between health care and public health – and meeting each other halfway. 

Cohen, who served as North Carolina HHS secretary during the COVID-19 pandemic, noted that health plans and public health professionals are all working toward the same goal: ensuring better health and improving lives. “Payers are critical partners,” Cohen said. “It’s a team sport.” 

One way health plans can support public health is to help foster data interoperability. “Continue to encourage the systems that you invest in to make sure they’re building data systems that are interoperable, that allow us to see disease threats quickly, so that we can respond,” Cohen said. 

Cohen cited the recent avian influenza outbreak as an example of how health plans and public health can coalesce around a crisis. She said one reason she can reassure the public that the risk is low is because she receives real-time syndromic data from 90% of the emergency departments in the US to get a complete picture of what’s happening with the virus. 

As the pandemic moves further into the past, it is crucial to keep the lessons learned from it front and center – particularly, how effectively the health care system and public health worked together, said Bechara Choucair, executive vice president and chief health officer of  Kaiser Permanente. Choucair, who served as the White House’s national COVID-19 vaccinations coordinator from January to November 2021, said that experience provided him “the opportunity to see how effective we can be when those bridges between public health and health care are present and are strengthened.”

Another lesson from COVID-19 is to be vigilant and proactive rather than reactive, said Dave Chokshi, chair of the Common Health Coalition, a consortium of organizations, including AHIP, that aims to optimize the relationship between the health care system and public health. “Times like these are when we need to be shoring up responses and plans,” Chokshi said. 

Collaborating on health equity

Figures from the 2020 US Census show that the nation is more diverse than ever. Health plans across the industry are working diligently to serve these communities and make inroads toward health equity, said LaShawn McIver, senior vice president and chief health equity officer of AHIP. 

“When it comes to health equity in the care space, we pay for access to benefits and care,” McIver said. “But in the last several years, we have started to think differently about how that translates through an equity lens.”

Health plans are digging into what health equity really means, McIver said, and focusing on efforts around targeted care, because certain populations “may require different levels of support and connection to have that fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.”

McIver added that this task “is one of the most important challenges our health care system faces as we prioritize health equity.”

McIver mentioned initiatives that AHIP has undertaken to promote health equity, one of which included talking to members about their current health equity efforts and advising them on areas of focus. This led AHIP to work on an industrywide strategy to encourage collaboration and help stakeholders “mobilize around specific, actionable goals.” The organization is also leading a push to improve and modernize national demographic data standards. 

Health care faces myriad obstacles around health equity, but the field is ready to meet the moment, McIver said. “We have never been more equipped to tackle those challenges.” 

Collaboration will be a critical component of those efforts, McIver said. “No one entity can eliminate health equity alone. It is something that only can be achieved when we work together.”


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