An open letter to President-elect Joe Biden: We're ready to have a dialogue and a partnership

First, congratulations on your victory and know that every healthcare leader in America is invested in your administration’s success. We are committed to working together and with the government and Congress to defeat this unprecedented pandemic.

We will do this with new therapies, better preparedness, safe and effective vaccines rapidly delivered, and an unwavering message to keep our guard up.

We are heartened to see that your plan to fight COVID-19 calls for a strong federal response, an emphasis on science and equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments. We can all agree that a coordinated, robust plan is our best weapon to defeat this global killer, especially as we enter the most perilous phase of the pandemic.

A suggestion: Please consider adding an advisory board that includes clinicians, nurses, health system and nursing home leaders, and other care providers so that your administration has a potent sounding board—voices from the front lines in real time—to help develop the most effective policies during the pandemic and beyond.

This pandemic has laid bare a sad and unacceptable truth in our nation: health outcomes are too often tied to ZIP codes, a failure that needs a turbo-charged response to erase disturbing gaps. It’s well-known that people of color are three times more likely to contract COVID than whites and two times more likely to die. But long before the pandemic crystallized this, research told us that there can be a 20-year gap in life expectancy based on where a person lives. Our generation is the first in a century to not bestow the gift of a longer life to today’s newborns, which makes us an outlier among peer nations. 

A suggestion: In formulating health policy, the government needs to offer incentives for strategies to address the social determinants of health, including food and housing insecurity, transportation problems and the like. There are two major selling points to pursue this path: We owe it to future generations to grant them improved health. And if we want to deliver more value to our communities, we must invest in prevention and other plans to maintain health, not just cure illness.

Please consider mental healthcare equity a priority in your administration’s approach to improving overall healthcare. A Gallup poll released last week shows the toll of life in America these days: the self-reported mental health in our nation is at the lowest point in 20 years. This is a pandemic within a pandemic. We see this routinely—an increase in reports of substance use disorder, depression, overdoses and other mental health crises, which we aptly call diseases 
of despair. 

A suggestion: The federal government must support the payment of and access to behavioral healthcare to ensure mental health and addiction services are not only fully integrated into healthcare, but affordable, accessible and convenient. For instance, some insurers are waiving member cost-sharing for covered in-network telemedicine visits for behavioral health treatment. Our network just added additional mental health benefits, including five free counseling sessions. We’ve also made major investments, including opening an urgent-care behavioral health center and a destination, state-of-the art addiction treatment center, which opens in a few weeks.

Too often in healthcare, we are slow to act because solutions seem daunting: they can be cost-prohibitive or deemed too revolutionary in an industry that sometimes lags behind others when it comes to making timely, transformative strides. But beyond the human toll of our current situation is the financial toll on patients as well as the nation’s health system. 

We can build on the legacy of our nation’s healthcare victories with your leadership. Drugmakers, many with government support, worked at breakneck speed to deliver COVID vaccines. The War on Cancer reduced death rates by 25% in just a generation. Mr. President-Elect, together we are capable of transforming healthcare and we look forward to partnering with your administration on this vital mission.

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