Aetna touts community investment as next wave of health reform

Mark Bertolini speaking

Through increased investment in research and community health initiatives, Aetna hopes to prove that the American healthcare system is spending “more than enough” on healthcare, but not spending that money where it should be, according to CEO Mark Bertolini.

Aetna, which has garnered headlines lately for its imperiled merger with Humana and its public exchange pullback, now hopes to lay the groundwork for what it sees as the next wave of healthcare reform, according to U.S. News & World Report.

"We need to spend money in a way that improves people's quality of life and reduces the cost over time," Bertolini told the publication.

To achieve this goal, the Aetna Foundation funded a study to collect baseline data about which health issues require the most investment, according to study author Ken Thorpe of Emory University. The findings, which the insurer shared with U.S. News, highlight the health benefits of social factors such as the following:

  • Exercise: Spending on parks and recreation was associated with fewer negative mental health outcomes, and an increase in the share of people who engaged in physical activity was associated with lower rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
  • Not smoking: Reducing the number of smokers was associated with a decline in asthma rates and the number of mental health days individuals took from work.
  • Employment: Higher unemployment rates were associated with worse health.  

Meanwhile, Aetna is already investing in projects such as its Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge, the article notes. The initiative awards grants to 50 communities or organizations that tackle issues such as reducing prison re-entry or increasing access to healthy foods, increasing the grants after two to three years if those efforts show improvements.

Bertolini, whose approach to health reform was influenced by his own experiences in the healthcare system, has previously set about moving Aetna toward value-based payment models to mirror the federal government’s push for a new approach to provider payments.