The Power of Healthcare: Making the Healthcare Industry Work for Arizonans
Lisa Stevens Anderson, Regional Market President
Equality Health is a mission-driven company. At our core, we are committed to advancing health equity by breaking down barriers to care and helping individuals live a healthier life no matter their background or socioeconomic status. In VBC, providers, their patients, and our communities all reap the benefits of better outcomes.
Because Equality Health also extends the reach of primary care practices into the places where the most clinically complex members live and work, we can be effective at helping patients access services to address Social Determinants of Health. Through Equality Health Foundation, we also get involved in local communities to deliver resources and education in partnership with community-based organizations at the state and local municipality level. Our annual Healthy Fall Festivals are a strong example of our community impact, and we are coming up on these events locally in November.
Equality Health is here helping independent primary care providers (PCPs) shift the focus of the healthcare delivery system from volume to value. We do this by providing PCPs with the technology and support they need to continue delivering high-quality care for underserved communities, which often comprise some of the most complex patients.
The shift to Value-Based Care is quite challenging to make for any healthcare organization blue a health system, a hospital, or a clinic group — but especially for independent practices, who may have just a few providers and small office teams. PCPs in Arizona — and across the U.S. — need access to technologies that help automate labor-intensive back-office functions (for example, around value-based care contracts with health plans), identify and close care gaps in care for their patients, and flag high-risk patients or patients who may struggle with Social Determinants of Health. These social barriers are often in play for the most complex patients. That is why we launched Equality Health at Home, a new service where field-based community health workers and nurse practitioners can support the care provided by the PCP.
Given that Arizona spent $17.6 billion in FY2021 on the Medicaid program, according to reporting from KFF, we all need to help make those dollars work smarter and more efficiently. Across Arizona, Equality Health works with over 2,200 primary care providers and 6,500 total providers, serving more than 325,000 members across the state.
The results we have achieved through our continued focus on provider enablement is highlighted through aligned provider partnerships, such as Happy Kids/Feliz Care, and at the individual patient level such as Becky’s story.
One of the biggest healthcare concerns for Arizona right now is that we have too few PCPs. According to this AZ primary care workforce report, from the University of Arizona’s Center for Rural Health, we rank 42nd in the nation for primary care services — with roughly 80 primary care physicians for 100,000 people, compared to the U.S. median of about 94. In the Valley, one in five residents are unsure how they will get care, and in rural areas that stat is two in every five.
Strengthening Business and the Economy
Equality Health is headquartered in Phoenix. We employ 300-plus associates, the majority of whom are based here in the Phoenix metro. We are growing, continuing to expand our network and our value-based care model deeper into Arizona communities and across the nation. We started here in Arizona and are now supporting PCPs in Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana, with plans to open up new state markets next year. Because we focus on partnering with and supporting independent primary care practices — which are small businesses — we look forward to continuing to help these businesses thrive and stay independent as the shift to value-based care continues.
The dearth of primary care physicians means that too many people go without care or they wait until there is a bigger healthcare crisis, which may result in an ED visit or hospital stay — a more expensive path, driving up healthcare costs and running counter to VBC goals. Primary care providers are crucial to combating this — and it’s through the great work of so many of our local providers to focus on a culturally competent, whole-person approach that we can counter this trend.
The good news is that there are many state leaders and initiatives in play working to improve primary care access including training, support and recruiting of PCPs. The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2023, a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Congress in March of this year, aims to help this national issue. This federal legislation would pave the way for Arizona-based hospitals and medical centers to receive federal reimbursement funding, expanding the number of residency positions they could offer, with the hope to bring more medical students to Arizona and the strong likelihood they stay after graduation. ASU also announced in June that it is launching a new medical school aimed at the healthcare challenges we face in the state.
With our focus on PCPs and supporting them in communities across the state, we are pleased to be part of the solution to this statewide challenge.