Erin Erickson, MA 16 articles

Life with chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes can sometimes be painfully hard. And nearly half of all adult Americans have cardiovascular disease of some sort.

Pat Courneya, MD, Chief Medical Officer
Pat Courneya, MD, Chief Medical Officer

As a physician who has seen thousands of patients dealing with chronic disease, Dr. Patrick Courneya, MD, Chief Medical Officer at HealthPartners, knows the complexities and uphill battles these individuals face.

He spoke about these challenges and a ground-breaking ACHP initiative to help tackle them in an episode of the ACHP's Healthy Dialog podcast: Leading By Example: Chronic Conditions And Affordability. 

“The toll of chronic disease extends well beyond the cost and mortality that comes from these conditions,” explains Dr. Courneya. “Disease interferes with people’s ability to fully enjoy their lives.”

Pandemic worsens chronic disease challenges

In his view, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it more difficult. People with chronic diseases often lack the physiological, emotional, and economic reserves to weather an illness like COVID-19.

And chronic disease exerts a terrible toll on the national economy. Across the United States, 90 percent of total healthcare costs are attributed to chronic health conditions.

It’s clearer than ever why we must do everything we can to prevent chronic diseases and not just focus on treating them, argues Courneya.

Commitment to better care by 2030

The Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), of which HealthPartners is an active member, recently rolled out a comprehensive roadmap of strategies and policies to tackle endemic problems in new, more powerful ways. The key is bringing health plans and care delivery systems together to work on integrated approaches to improving care access, quality, affordability, and patient outcomes. 

ACHP’s proposed changes put patients’ needs first, rewarding providers not for the number of individual procedures performed, but rather for coordinated, affordable care that measurably improves overall well-being and prevents disease. 

Improving chronic disease outcomes across communities

The ACHP is also taking the roadmap a step further by requiring its member organizations, including HealthPartners, to lead by example. This means being the first health insurance plans to track and improve community outcome measures for chronic disease while reducing healthcare costs.

Dr. Courneya is excited by ACHP member organizations’ commitment to this level of population impact. “It reflects actual ownership and a public declaration of accountability. As an ACHP member organization, HealthPartners recognizes that connecting with our community and positively impacting the way chronic disease affects those we serve is a very powerful point of leverage to changing the system overall.”

Better, more affordable care with an integrated approach

As an integrated health plan and care delivery system, HealthPartners is well positioned to better manage disease and has many community-focused programs underway already. Plan incentives, benefit structures, and disease management programs are collaboratively designed by care and plan experts to support effective treatment for patients and members.

Training clinicians about chronic disease control through the HealthPartners Institute has also long been a key tactic to drive improved outcomes.

Closing the gap on racial disparities

A focus on reducing racial disparities in care and outcomes is fundamental. Some groups—including racial and ethnic minorities, those living in poverty, and people in certain parts of the country—are disproportionately impacted by the burden of these conditions.

“Part of taking ownership and responsibility means gaining a better understanding of the racial and ethnic backgrounds of those you serve,” says Dr. Courneya. “HealthPartners frequently carries out research to identify inequities in care and develop ways to address those disparities, closing the gap.”

HealthPartners was one of only two organizations in the nation to receive a health equity award by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2019.

Gaining control of diabetes and heart disease

All of these integrated measures are vital to helping ACHP member organizations reduce the effects of two of the most significant chronic conditions impacting the United States population: diabetes and heart disease.

“Heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States in 2019, "explains Dr. Courneya. "I suspect even with COVID in a race to overtake it, it will still be the leading cause of death in 2020. Diabetes is number seven. Those two diseases alone have a very devastating impact. Anything we can do to gain better control over diabetes and heart disease will reduce other contributing health risks and complications. By effectively managing both, we can radically improve the lives of a large portion of people across our communities.”


Listen to Dr Courneya talking on the ACHP’s Healthy Dialog podcast: Leading By Example: Chronic Conditions and Affordability. 

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