The Health Section

Bertolini at Washington Ideas Forum: Focus on community health

During The Atlantic’s 2017 Washington Ideas Forum, Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini was given a minute to explain how he would change the health care system in the United States. Noting the current issues with the system, Bertolini said the focus needs to be on the local level.

“You have to go back to the community,” he said. “You have to go back local; be in the community, in the neighborhoods talking to the people about what matters and do it for them.”

Interviewed by Matt Thompson, executive editor of The Atlantic, Bertolini stressed the need to work in communities and address the social determinants of health and other health care needs.

Bertolini spoke about The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. Fifty finalists are participating in the challenge, which will award $1.5 million in prizes to communities that show measurable improvements in health indicators and social determinants of health.

“We’re trying to understand the demography disease burden and social and economic patterns of a community and say, ‘OK, what does the system need to be like to support that?'” Bertolini said. “… If we understand that demography and disease burden, then we can design a system that works for that community and we can deliver it in the most efficient way possible.”


Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark T. Bertolini talks during the 2017 Washington Ideas Forum. | Photo courtesy of Washington Ideas Forum


One of the finalists, Kansas City, Missouri, is treating violence as a curable disease. In 2015, 111 people were killed in Kansas City — one of the deadliest years in the city’s history. Local city organizations are working together to reduce youth and domestic violence death rates, as well as improve high school graduation rates.

In Camden, New Jersey, a one-inch rainstorm can cause the sewer systems to flood, leaving roads impassable and sending sewage into parks, homes and waterways. The city is working to reduce sewer overflows and improve water quality in waterways and green infrastructure.

Learn more about the HealthyCommunity50

Bertolini also shared more insight on Aetna’s collaboration with Meals on Wheels America to improve access to critical health and social services for older adults in the U.S. The idea, Bertolini said, is to move from the exam table to the kitchen table to learn more about someone’s health and how Aetna can help.

“If you can get to the kitchen table, you need to have people that they trust,” he said. “The people that deliver food to them everyday are people they trust. Those people can make honest assessments from day-to-day.”

Aetna and Meals on Wheels will pilot a model for care coordination that integrates Meal on Wheels’ daily nutritious meals, social support and critical safety checks. The results will help build a scalable model that addresses the challenges seniors face daily.