Finding Inspiration To Address Health Disparities
This February, I’m contemplating Black History Month more carefully than I ever have before. I’m inspired by a quote from Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, DFAPA, MFPM: “Moving from health disparity to health equity, finding a way to deliver care to those denied, delivering healing for all no matter their race and creating healthier communities across the globe were to be my life’s work.”
I look forward to hearing more from Dr. Lewis-Hall during AMCP 2021’s Opening General Session. Dr. Lewis-Hall has spent her 35-year career on the frontlines of health care, including as Pfizer, Inc.’s chief medical officer and executive vice president until the end of 2018 and as chief patient officer and executive vice president in 2019.
During this global pandemic when pharmaceutical innovation is so critical, I hope we can draw inspiration from a couple of health care pioneers:
- Alice Ball earned her bachelor’s in pharmaceutical chemistry in 1912, and in 1914 she earned a second degree in pharmacy, both from the University of Washington. In 1915, Alice Ball became the first woman and first African American to graduate from the College of Hawaii (now known as the University of Hawaii), where she earned a Master of Science degree in chemistry. In her work, Ball was the first person to successfully develop an injectable treatment for Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy. Remarkably, she was just 23 years old./li>
- Bernard J. Tyson was chairman and chief executive of Kaiser Permanente, where he worked for more than 30 years. At Tyson’s urging, the organization was among the first health systems to invest heavily in technology to better manage patient care and expenses. According to his 2019 New York Times obituary, Tyson was one of the nation’s most influential health care executives. He “was outspoken about bringing down health care costs and moving away from the current system that pays hospitals and doctors more when they provide more care, regardless of how much a patient may need it.” During an interview, he told the newspaper that “the industry needed to become more efficient so that more people could afford care.”
The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund recognizes Tyson’s passion for closing the health disparities gap. According to the AHA, this national fund has a local investment focus, supporting and investing in evidence-based, locally led solutions that are breaking down the social and economic barriers to health equity.
It’s not enough to be inspired by these pioneers, however. Ball and Tyson took action, and we must also. In June 2020, AMCP united with 13 national pharmacy organizations to take a public stand against racial injustice. In a letter, AMCP President Marissa Schlaifer, MS, RPh, and I asked AMCP members how the pharmacy profession could demonstrate a commitment to eliminate racism and inequality.
Since then, we have been working to weave measurable social justice goals into all AMCP and AMCP Foundation strategic plans and initiatives. The boards are committed to this priority and are working to identify our small piece of this much larger puzzle. For example, we are working to build an equity, diversity, and inclusion statement that will help guide all our planning. Additionally, the March 2021 AMCP Partnership Forum, Racial Health Disparities: A Closer Look at Benefit Design, seeks to outline potential structural issues within the current formulary and benefit design processes that may lead to racial health disparities and inequality.
In the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Managed Care + Specialty Pharmacy, Stephen J Kogut, PhD, MBA, RPh, writes that “racial health disparities are an inexcusable lesion on the U.S. health care system.” He goes on to outline what he calls “imperatives for managed care pharmacy,” addressing racial disparities in medication use. I encourage you to review the article in its entirety. I also want to underscore the journal editors’ call for submissions, which invites you to submit papers that will help us all continue and advance these difficult but essential conversations.
This February, let the efforts of others inspire us to take action as we strive to meaningfully address health disparities now and in the future. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to managed care pharmacy.