Health Equity Spans Whole CVS Organization
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, VP and chief health equity officer, CVS Health, said the company has a longstanding commitment to advance health equity.
“To us, health equity is not a series of programs—it’s how we do business,” she said in an interview with Drug Store News. “We leverage our capabilities and reach to create meaningful change as part of our cross-enterprise efforts to advance health equity.”
The company’s CVS Pharmacy division seeks to address barriers to care by providing the communities it serves with increased access to products and services that are affordable and convenient, Khaldun said. For example, to overcome barriers to equitable menstrual care, CVS reduced the price of store brand period products by 25%, absorbed the so-called “menstrual tax”—the sales tax some states levy on menstrual products—in 12 states and partnered with national organizations working to eliminate the tax altogether in 26 states.
The CVS Health division, meanwhile, continues to expand access to mental health services. It offers depression screenings in more than 1,000 MinuteClinic locations nationwide. In select MinuteClinic locations, consumers can access in-person and virtual mental health services, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Project Health, the company’s series of free health screening programs, has expanded to offer free depression screenings at all of its events this year.
The CVS Caremark division, meanwhile, invests in programs that address barriers to care to alleviate inequities for historically marginalized communities, Khaldun said. The division is focused on three conditions that disproportionately affect people of color: sickle cell disease, HIV and heart disease.
The CVS health equity initiative focuses on three areas, Khaldun said:
- Empowering employees: “We are empowering our colleagues by providing robust training and learning opportunities to accelerate our ability to help every customer, member and patient we serve achieve optimal health,” she said.
- Measurement: CVS is standardizing and improving its collection of data related to race, ethnicity, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability for its consumers, members, patients and providers, Khaldun said.
- Taking bold actions: “We are implementing evidence-based strategies and creating collaborations to address some of the most pressing public health challenges in the country, with an initial focus on heart health, mental health and women’s health,” she said.
“By using data analytics to identify inequities and taking action to address them, we strive to improve health care access and quality of health for every population we serve,” said Khaldun. CVS also recognizes the power of collaboration, she said.
“No one person, organization or entity can advance health equity alone,” said Khaldun. “The private sector, employers, government, hospitals, academic organizations—everyone has a role to play.”
Earlier this year, CVS launched the CVS Health Community Equity Alliance, which brings academic and health care institutions together to help expand the community health worker workforce and address health inequities in heart health and mental health, she said.
Kroger Takes Multifaceted Approach
Kroger is also among the retailers taking a multifaceted approach to combatting inequities in health care.
“With 90% of the U.S. population living within five miles of a pharmacy, and 51% of all Kroger stores located in socially vulnerable areas, Kroger Health and The Little Clinic aim to provide all communities with access to healthcare,” said Kirby. “It’s as simple as this: Access to healthcare is no further than your neighborhood retailer.”
Kroger’s massive national footprint as a food-and-drug retailer, with 24,000 healthcare professionals, positions the company “at the nexus of food and pharmacy,” he said. That positions Kroger to be able to improve outcomes through simplified health, wellness and nutrition solutions and increase accessibility to healthcare services, he said.
“Most nutrition insecurity problems are related to social determinants of health, which are conditions in the environments where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes,” said Kirby. “Through Kroger stores, communities have access to healthy foods, and through Kroger Health’s services and our Little Clinic locations, people have access to expert, credible and convenient healthcare services.”
He also noted that Kroger has expanded its e-commerce services through Kroger Delivery to reach more customers in underserved areas with fresh, affordable food. In addition, families who rely on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can also utilize this service, Kirby said. Access to healthy food and resources improves health outcomes and may lead to lower risk for developing chronic diseases, he said.
Meanwhile, Kroger’s The Little Clinic locations provide communities with access to quality, affordable care, Kirby said. The company provides a “completely transparent view” into the costs of the health services it provides, he said, which helps patients understand what their services will cost, regardless of their insurance coverage.
Additionally, during the pandemic, Kroger’s Little Clinic locations and Kroger pharmacies administered 11.4 million COVID-19 vaccines.
“Through thoughtful connections and deepened community support, customers became familiar with our company’s healthcare services,” said Kirby.
Kroger also began to offer telehealth virtual visits, which allow patients to talk with a healthcare provider via video calls. This is improving access to nutrition counseling and overall health management in areas where the nearest healthcare providers may be difficult to reach, Kirby said.
Additionally, Kroger Health recently entered the clinical trial space, which Kirby said will create more opportunities for equitable access to clinical trials for historically underserved communities.
“By establishing a clinical trial site network, Kroger Health is utilizing its established, wide-reaching impact on local insights and trends to address major issues facing clinical trial success: difficulty in meeting enrollment targets, patient retention in trials and an ongoing lack of diversity in patient populations,” he said.