One of the most influential people in the heathcare industry, Mark Bertolini, says until we address the social determinants of health, we will be a poor nation indeed.
Where we live and how we eat are hugely important. But reducing stress by deciding where we live, educating people about the environment they create and accessing the benefits of practicing mindfulness is nothing short of transformative. Bertolini credits his practice, which includes yoga and meditation, for not only saving his life, but he hopes that it will save the healthcare industry from itself.
In a recent talk at the Jackson Hole Museum of Wildlife Art sponsored by St. John’s Medical Center, Bertolini, the former CEO of Aetna, said the US spends more than $3 trillion on healthcare costs a year, that’s 17.6% of our GDP compared to Great Britain, which spends 8.8% of their GDP. We are number one in healthcare expenditures and 38 in healthcare outcomes.
Why? We have not recognized the social determinants in healthcare outcomes. Studies show that 20% of your life expectancy is determined by the care you get in the healthcare system (only .4% of the average person’s life is spent in the system), 40% is determined by genetics and 60% is determined by where you live.
Even though we spend 99.6% of our lives out of the healthcare system, 80% of Americans are one big deductible away from a major financial crisis. Bertolini does not fall into either of these statistics, given that he has been so successful. But after spending a lot of time in the hospital, he hopes to share his struggles and his privilege to teach people that they have a choice when it comes to self care.
In 2004, Bertolini broke his neck in five places in a skiing accident . This was the second crucible moment in his life – the first was when his son was diagnosed with inoperable lymphoma (he has since miraculously recovered). In both of his encounters with the medical field, he realized how deficient our healthcare system is because it is only treating the symptoms. It is not addressing patient’s psychological and social needs or looking at them as a whole person. After his accident, which left him on nine different painkillers, Bertonlini turned to alternative treatments like craniosacral therapy, and he went deep into yoga.
A huge proponent of holistic health, Bertolini retired in 2018 and is following passion projects including his involvement with the Mind & Life Institute and his book, MIssion Driven Leadership, which is expected to hit the stands this month. But not before he forged an agreement with CVS to create one of the largest healthcare companies in the world. The concept, when the deal was signed in 2017 was that since the drug store’s 10,000 locations were within five miles of many homes in America, it would create more accessibility.
Did he check out too early? Time will tell. But hopefully by creating a Chief Mindfulness Officer at Aetna, he has changed the culture for the better. As he got more and more interested in the mind body connection, Bertolini undertook studies within Aetna that showed that stress cost them $2,500 a year more per person and that it was possible to save $3,000 by incentivizing employees to pursue mindfulness programs. In a controversial move with shareholders, he increased the minimum wage and put 16,000 employees through mindfulness programs in 2015.
Bertolini’s quiet shift led to a seismic change for minimum wage employees. Soon after than Walmart followed suit, raising its minimum wage as well. And all this from a CEO that employees at first dubbed Darth Vader.