The head of the association representing U.S. health insurers said he expects equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution to be the No. 1 priority in the Biden administration.
Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said Tuesday that his organization wants to assist the administration in its goals of COVID-19 relief and economic recovery, while calling for health equity in America’s communities.
“America’s longstanding health disparities have been on tragic display throughout the last year,” he said during AHIP’s 2021 State of the Industry virtual event. “Minorities in the U.S. are becoming infected and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white populations. These outcomes are unacceptable. They can be traced back to something health insurance providers have been increasing their focus on in recent years – the foundational social determinants that create health inequities.”
Eyles said that if things such as nutritious food, shelter, transportation and safety aren’t available, it is more difficult for a person to stay healthy or recover from illness.
“So if our job is to keep people healthy, that job extends far beyond the four walls of the doctor’s office,” he said. “Health insurance providers have been working to address social determinants of health for years. The nature of the work varies. It can mean helping people adopt healthier diets, improve living conditions inside their homes or get to and from their medical appointments.”
That health equity spills over into COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Eyles said, calling for “a conversation about equitable vaccine distribution.”
He said AHIP’s members are ready to work with federal, state and local partners “to make sure that these vaccines are distributed to the communities and populations that need them most.”
Reaching Out To Communities Of Color
One of the major challenges in distributing vaccines equitably, Eyles said, is “vaccine hesitancy,” and he added that the causes of that hesitancy are complex.
“Some minority communities, for example, are skeptical about any kind of government-endorsed health intervention,” he said. “Those fears are rooted in a well-documented history of dangerous health policy and clinical experiments that have targeted vulnerable populations.”
He called for the health insurance industry to work to earn the trust of the communities in which they operate. He urged health insurers to “work with trusted local partners to actively communicate the benefits of vaccination.” However, he added, that trust cannot be earned “without acknowledging the painful history of generations of maltreatment.”
AHIP will partner with The Ad Council’s vaccine campaign, which will reach out to communities of color, Eyles said.
Confidence In The ACA
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional without the individual mandate penalty. The court is expected to hand down a ruling before June.
Eyles said AHIP believes the court will preserve the health care law.
“We remain confident that the court will see that invalidating the law would be misguided and wrong, harming hundreds of millions of Americans,” he said. “Instead, we can work together to build on solutions that work.”
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.
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