By Read Holman
This past Tuesday, as investors and healthcare business folks convened in hotel conference rooms at the 37th Annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, a diverse group gathered in a very different place just a few blocks away.
Some 500 of us came together in the soaring sanctuary of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, where 80-year-old marble columns and stained-glass windows stand with signs of a just-integrated modernity: Powerful speakers hung from the rafters; wires, keyboards, and microphones lay in front of the congregation; and giant projected slides backdropped those who spoke.
You couldn’t find a more apt place to plant the seeds we had come to sow. Glide describes itself like this: “GLIDE is a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.” Its top tagline is:
Let Love Lead!
In that setting, our HealthBegins team joined the 2nd Annual Future of Medicaid Innovation Forum. It was a national gathering of the newly formed HealthTech 4 Medicaid network. Our mission: to talk candidly about the state of Medicaid today, where Medicaid could go tomorrow, and what we need to do to get there.
The meeting infused us all with fresh hope — hope that we as a community can truly accelerate the work of improving programs and related products and services to provide high-quality care at lower costs to those with Medicaid insurance across the country.
Yet for us at HealthBegins, the forum also underscored the need to stay focused on the core values that brought us to upstream care in the first place as we carry on this crucial work. The reflections we share in this post explain how.
Medicaid offers rich soil within which to dig our hands into innovation. Ongoing structural changes — from shifts to value-based financing to the expansion of markets within states — continue to roll out across the country. Meanwhile, the larger digital revolution that’s impacting all industries is finally making headway within the healthcare industry. For Medicaid, “opportunity” is the word preached by those who are paying attention.
And oh, has the community grown!
For the first lesson from Glide was visible in sheer numbers. Where the same gathering last year drew about 100 people in the church basement, this time fivefold more individuals sat in the sanctuary pews.
Many incredible upstream-care leaders graced the stage. These included executives such as North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and CareMore Health CEO Sachin Jain; entrepreneurs such as Wildflower Health CEO Leah Sparks and Healthify CEO Manik Bhat; and investors such as Melissa Buckley, who directs the Health Innovation Fund at the California Health Care Foundation.
This event reflected incredible growth and maturity in an area that doesn’t often get much attention. That is a testament (pun intended!) to the hard work being done by movement leaders, and by the companies and larger foray of actors in the Medicaid and tech space.
The growth in attendance is also indicative of the bigger picture; more and more people are seeing the Medicaid market as more than just a service economy. Businesses are interested. Entrepreneurs are interested. Investors are interested.
Against that backdrop, a conversation about technology took center stage.
Some very useful myth busting occurred. We established that individuals with Medicaid are much like individuals everywhere, despite continued misperceptions. Most individuals with Medicaid coverage have smartphones and want to use the internet to make appointments and communicate with their doctor. Many wear wearables. All at rates comparable to the general population.
In terms of the broader world of innovation in health, Medicaid as a program is not, as many think, “behind.” Quite the opposite, actually. As Rubicon CEO Gil Addo said on stage: Medicaid is leading, not lagging.
Speakers were quick also to point out that transforming a system like Medicaid is bigger than just technology. Tech is a tool too often seen a silver bullet. It generates a lot of excitement and interest, but at the end of the day: Tech is a partner, not a solution.
At HealthBegins, we’ve certainly seen this with our partners — that policies, people, and processes are critical components of change that need engagement as well. Transformation involves not just the promise of new technologies but also the hard work of ensuring that the technology is properly implemented within a larger framework of empathy, a larger system of outcomes accountability, and a larger vision for shifting care delivery upstream.
Reflections and Opportunities
The Glide gathering also reminded our team that, amid the novelty and innovation of this work, we should continually re-commit to the north-star values that forged this community in the first place. (These are my individual reflections, but they have also been fleshed out with the help of my colleagues here at HealthBegins.)
Innovation ≠ Tech. The words “innovation” and “technology” were at times used interchangeably during this conference. It’s important to emphasize, though, that these are not the same thing.
Yes, technology can be “innovative.” Yes, technology can be useful in helping us shift to new paradigms in how we operate. But technology is just one component.
Further, innovation does not necessarily require technology at all! Some of the biggest innovations, in fact, don’t. These innovations involve rethinking programs, changing how and whom you hire, even just reimagining how team meetings should be run.
Innovation is a mindset anchored in continuous learning and a naggingly desperate desire for betterment. Tech is a tool that can support this mindset. An important tool at times, but simply a tool nonetheless.
Diversity and Inclusion includes the patient. Compared to the larger audience that attends JP Morgan and that that attends most tech events, the group of attendees at Glide was fairly diverse, in terms of racial and ethnic makeup as well as professions. There was a mix of entrepreneurs, providers, investors, and consultants (like us!).
Our HealthBegins team felt inspired by that diversity, but we also recognized that one key voice needs more amplification as HT4M’s work continues to grow: that of the patient.
We cannot build the future of Medicaid without the direct involvement of those who have Medicaid coverage. Any attempt to do so, while well intentioned, risks resulting in more harm, more angst, more struggle for those with already busy and complicated day-to-day lives. We must not work for those with Medicaid coverage. We must work with them.
Fittingly, Glide actually has an FQHC on an upper floor in the building! As we now build upon the important work we’ve begun, perhaps our community can continue its ascent — literally and metaphorically. This last year we rose from the church basement up to the sanctuary; next year we could rise further still up to the clinic.
Values must guide us. JP Morgan is a business- and investor-oriented event. So it made sense that a primary message of those on stage was that of business opportunity: Entrepreneurs should pay attention! Investors should not be afraid! There’s plenty of money to be made!
This is, importantly, true. And we’re thankful that it is true. While not equally applied across the country, Medicaid does offer an incredible opportunity for those looking to make an impact within the context of a sustainable business model.
But also true is what drives us here at HealthBegins.
Transformative work requires growing roots in the rich soil of a community. It requires operating on a human-to-human basis and in solidarity with those less privileged. It functions through the lenses of hope, justice, and health and equity for all.
Keeping the Faith
Now the hard, sometimes clumsy work of figuring out how to integrate these new tools into the institutions and pillars of our communities continues.
It’s appropriate that Glide has been a home for these conversations for two years running. And now we’re only 365 days away from when the 3rd Annual Future of Medicaid Innovation Forum calls us all back to church!
My hope is that we operate with that in mind: that over the next year we work to harness not just the power of technology, but the power that Glide represents. That we are fueled not just by the hope of a data-filled future, but the hope of a shared purpose, pursued together. And that we operate not just in the spirit of innovation, but in the deeper spirit of justice that Glide and its people embody.
Read Holman is a Senior Associate at HealthBegins. He just started a couple weeks ago, so reach out and say hello!