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Aetna’s Initiatives to Reduce Health Disparities Recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for Third Straight Year


2008 Award-winning program improved blood pressure levels, blood pressure monitoring, medication compliance for African American members

HARTFORD, Conn.— Aetna (NYSE: AET) has been awarded the prestigious “Recognizing Innovation in Multicultural Health Care Award” by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for its prospective randomized study to determine if a telephonic culturally competent disease management program can improve the health of African American members with hypertension. Members in the study who received culturally competent disease management outreach and educational materials achieved a higher percentage of clinically acceptable blood pressure levels, increased their frequency of self blood pressure monitoring, and greater medication compliance when compared to a control group of members who received a light support program.

“Compared with white Americans, African Americans have an 80 percent higher rate of stroke mortality, a 50 percent higher rate of heart disease mortality, and a 320 percent higher rate of hypertension-related end-stage renal disease,” said Troyen A. Brennan, MD., chief medical officer at Aetna, citing statistics from the American Heart Association. “At Aetna, we believe in the power of culturally competent care to improve health care outcomes. Since 2002, we have asked members to voluntarily provide us with information on their race and ethnicity. We then combine this data with evidence about the most prevalent health conditions in diverse populations and use the information to create clinical programs that address disparities.”

“Aetna’s innovative effort to improve the lives of African Americans with hypertension is a model for health plans across the country,” said Margaret E. O’Kane, president of NCQA. “As a nation of diverse cultures, languages and lifestyles, it’s essential for health plans to recognize the health risks and vulnerabilities of special populations and design programs that reach out and improve the quality of those members’ lives.”

Aetna worked with Morehouse School of Medicine and Health & Technology Vector, Inc. to design and evaluate the effectiveness of a culturally competent disease management program relative to a lightly managed program. The light support program provided blood pressure monitors for members’ use and included initial and post-assessment interviews with Aetna staff. Members in the culturally competent disease management group received additional services including:

Calls from disease management nurses to encourage life behaviors to improve hypertension health, blood pressure self-monitoring and medication compliance
Culturally competent heart healthy educational materials
Primary care physicians of these members received quarterly member-specific reports on self-reported blood pressure, as well as hypertension disease management goals and national guidelines on hypertension treatment
Physicians also received an invitation to participate in free online cultural competency training provided by the Physician’s Practical Guide to Culturally Competent Care offered by the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Upon the study’s completion, members enrolled in the culturally competent program achieved a higher percentage of clinically acceptable blood pressure levels, increased the frequency of self blood pressure monitoring and improved medication compliance when compared with the light support control group.

Aetna will be recognized at a ceremony in San Francisco on September 18. The award, sponsored by The California Endowment with support from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and The Office of Minority Health, is part of NCQA’s efforts to improve the quality of health care in the U.S. through development of a truly multicultural health care system. This is the third consecutive year Aetna has received this award.

Aetna was honored in 2006 for its pioneering initiative to collect race, ethnicity and language preference data from members on a voluntary, self-identification basis, and again in 2007 for reaching out in a culturally sensitive manner to Latina and African American women who had not had annual screening mammograms to encourage them to get one and help them locate a convenient mammography center.


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