New Hope for Addressing Health Inequities?

President Biden has appointed the first Black woman to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)— longtime Democratic health expert Chiquita Brooks-LaSure— at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has deeply impacted communities of color and deepened racial disparities in health care coverage. 

If confirmed, Brooks-LaSure— who has more than 20 years of health policy expertise and has served in several senior roles at CMS— would be in the second-most powerful position within the Department of Health and Human Services.  

Brooks-LaSure’s appointment comes in the wake of five million Black and Hispanic Americans losing their employer-sponsored health plans in 2020. That has led many to seek public payer programs like Medicaid or Medicare or alternative options for insurance coverage.

In the first half of 2020, the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by a full year. Broken down by race, life expectancy decreased 1.9 years for Hispanic Americans while Black Americans suffered the sharpest decline of 2.7 years.

Since the start of the pandemic, Black and Hispanic populations have died from COVID-19 at nearly twice the rate of non-Hispanic white people. 

Systemic inequalities in health care, general delays in seeking or receiving medical care and a rise in drug overdose deaths have led to overall health disparities.

FGH’s Aryana Khalid, former CMS Chief of Staff, and Adam Goldstein, former CMS Special Assistant— who worked with Brooks-LaSure during the Obama Administration — recall her passion to improve the health and well-being of all beneficiaries, a deep knowledge of CMS programs, and the leadership acumen to get things done.

As Goes Texas

After a surreal week in Texas, it’s clear we need to expect the unexpected when it comes to our infrastructure as extreme weather events – from wildfires to hurricanes – intensify.

Last week a combination of unprecedented cold, wintry weather and rolling blackouts crippled Texas. Several days of freezing weather and power outages led to 70 deaths and counting across the region. The lasting fallout includes clean up from all the burst pipes and other issues that may rival Hurricane Harvey’s price tag.

So what happened?

First, a shaky polar vortex (which some scientists blame on climate change) brought a record-breaking deep freeze to Texas.

Then, several factors contributed to a failure of Texas’s grid:

  • The cold that made households ratchet up the thermostat also caused mechanical failures in unweatherized equipment. Some wind turbines and nuclear plants had issues, yes, but the biggest culprits were crippled natural gas wellheads and processing plants. At one point, 30 gigawattsor nearly half the state’s natural gas capacitywent offline as demand for electricity and heat soared.
  • Texas’s unique electricity market – ERCOT – operates as an “energy-only” market where customers only pay for energy generated. Others use “capacity markets”— essentially paying for more generation than is needed – as insurance for huge demand events like the deep freeze.

Biden Steps Into Global Spotlight

President Biden has promoted what he calls a “foreign policy for the middle class,” which aims to link U.S. domestic and foreign policy. But whether he can recoup America’s role on the world stage remains to be seen. 

The U.S. faces a trust gap with traditional allies, who fear America could swiftly change course on commitments in the future. Biden’s longstanding personal relationships with world leaders help bolster his credibility, as does his belief in democracies’ collective influence to set global rules and norms.

Last week, Biden participated in a virtual meeting of Group of Seven (G7) leaders and the Munich Security Conference, where he called for a reinvigorated democratic alliance to address global challenges, despite heightened divisions within Europe. In its closing joint statement, the G7 used Biden’s campaign theme, vowing to “work together to beat COVID-19 and build back better.

Biden’s priorities vis a vis specific countries include: 

  • China: Biden aims to use global partnerships to address challenges posed by China. He and other senior officials have stated the U.S. will confront China’s economic abuses and is conducting a thorough review of current policies before taking action on tariffs, trade and sanctions. The administration is expected to coordinate with China on global issues such as climate change and COVID-19 but will continue to respond to China’s human rights abuses and attempts to shape the international system to advance its national interests.
  • Russia: Biden will seek to prevent Russia’s attacks on democracy and its suppression of democratic dissent while also advancing a strategic agenda that includes arms control and nonproliferation.
  • Middle East: Biden has already changed course dramatically by appointing a Special Envoy to end the war in Yemen, pausing some arms sales, and reassessing troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. Addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions will also be a high priority.

What We’re Watching: One Month In

FGH’s Liz Allen, former advisor to President Biden and Vice President Harris, shares some observations as the Biden Administration gets up and running. 

Expect the cabinet to be more visible in this administration

  • President Biden views agency heads as governing partners with broad opportunity to reach the American people.  The Biden cabinet is the most diverse in history.
  • Biden’s cabinet reflects respect for experience combined with a desire to break institutional norms, such as appointing Janet Yellen the first female Treasury Secretary in U.S. history.  

Unity, not unanimity.

  • President Biden ran on a platform of unifying the country. That message is being weaponized by the right and questioned by the media. 
  • The White House says: “The president ran on unifying the country, not on creating one political party.” 
  • Look for unity to be framed as a broadly-supported agenda, not necessarily bipartisan votes in Congress. 

Who Run the World? Girls.

  • Dr. Jill Biden is the first First Lady to work full-time, keeping her job as a community college professor. And she has shown early interest in policy issues such as immigration, family reunification, and cancer research, besides continuing her platform on education and military families. 
  • Vice President Kamala Harris is being positioned as a full governing partner to the president, without a discrete portfolio at this time. 

  • Women in media: the chief network White House correspondents from ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN are all women for the first time, and they’re working with an all-women senior White House communications team.

No Jab, No Job?

Company executives remain divided on requiring employees to be vaccinated before returning to in-person work despite the federal government’s permission to do so.

A bulk of the United States workforce is still working from home nearly a year into the pandemic. But the tele-workforce – which is split along a socioeconomic class divide – may shrink once virtually everyone who wants a vaccine can get one starting in April.

Two-thirds of employers will encourage workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, with some companies offering perks to employees who voluntarily get inoculated. But one-fifth of U.S. workers are still undecided about whether to get the vaccine.

It might take more than snacks and dependable Wi-Fi to lure employees back into the office. More than half of employed adults who can work from home say they want to continue working from home after the pandemic ends, and 29% of working professionals say they would quit if they are no longer permitted to work remotely. 

For many, reliable childcare and public transportation are key hurdles to resuming in-person work. Trend-setting companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Salesforce and Spotify have rolled out policies to allow employees to continue working from home or work remotely permanently.

When it comes to communicating with employees, 44% of employees remain in the dark about their company’s plan to return to the office for in-person work. And nearly half of employers have yet to communicate a vaccination policy to employees.

Minority Report

Gone are the days of Fox News dominating cable news. 

A new administration also brings a changing broadcast media landscape – especially when it comes to ratings. 

With President Trump out, Fox News has fallen to third place for the first time since 2001, causing major shakeups and finger pointing within the network. CNN is now the number one news channel across all of cable, with MSNBC in second place.

But it’s not just cable. NBC’s TODAY Show, for example, has been number one in the 25-54 demographic for 75 weeks in a row, bumping ABC’s Good Morning America from the top spot. 

As your company considers where to advertise or land major news, understanding how Americans consume the news— and how those habits are changing—  is critical to ensuring you’re targeting the right audience.

Who Wants to Know?

Companies across industries could face a fresh round of regulatory scrutiny in the form of new inquiries and enforcement activity with the new Congress and administration.

But it’s crucial to remember that when a government investigation becomes public, it’s not only investigators’ or regulators’ perceptions that matter. Stakeholders are watching, too.

Here are some best practices from FGH experts (recently shared via Bloomberg Law and the Practising Law Institute) for communicating during a government investigation to avoid losing trust, damaging stakeholder relationships or hurting your legal position:

  • Plan, plan, plan. A lack of scenario planning, preparation and coordination is the most common cause of communications mistakes when facing investigations. Anticipating issues and having a rapid response protocol in place beforehand is critical to keeping up with the news cycle in a timely, accurate and strategic way.
  • Nail the narrative. A company facing regulatory allegations needs a strong, accurate narrative that articulates its position and simplifies complex facts and concepts. Messaging should be adapted to various constituencies and evolve in response to new developments or claims.
  • Maintain balance between insulating the company from legal exposure and preserving the company’s reputation by emphasizing, as appropriate, transparency, cooperation, corporate values and remediation.
  • Prepare and train executives. Whether in a media or regulator interview or in the Congressional hearing hot seat, top executives should be rigorously trained on messaging and well-practiced in handling tough questions. Conveying credibility, authenticity and transparency from the top can help shape how key audiences react to the company’s position.

  • Let stakeholders hear it from you first. Stakeholders expect a position or perspective from a company and don’t just want to read it in the papers. Engaging directly can maintain trust, empower supporters and reassure potential skeptics.