I Am a Primary Care Champion: Connie Hwang of the Alliance of Community Health Plans

This is a republished article from the July 2021 issue of the Executive Member Update, the monthly e-newsletter for PCC Executive Members. Each issue of the newsletter features a short profile of an individual who works in primary care or whose job includes a segment on primary care. This feature is a way of recognizing the passion and dedication that clinicians, advocates, and others have for primary care and connecting members of the primary care community to others like them.

Connie Hwang, MD, MPH

Chief Medical Officer and Director, Clinical Innovation, Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP)

Why are you passionate about primary care?

To improve our nation’s health, we need to ensure access to comprehensive primary care services. My first job out of college in the 1990s was working on the federal evaluation of the Oregon Health Plan, an ambitious, experimental Medicaid expansion extending insurance coverage to an additional 120,000 Oregonians. Part of my job was reading local newspaper clippings and listening to our focus group interviews, and I remember being moved by stories of how gaining access to primary care truly transformed people’s lives for the better. I’m sure this influenced my decision to later train as an internal medicine physician and work with patients in trusted, longitudinal relationships.

If you had a magic wand that you could wave to change one thing in primary care, what would it be?

I would ensure state and federal policies invest in higher, value-based payments for primary care clinicians. Research and experience tell us that if we pay for care differently – moving away from fee-for-service and embracing global payments – we can improve quality and outcomes and achieve greater value for our healthcare dollars. At ACHP, I work with nonprofit community health plans committed to advancing value-based care, and I’ve enjoyed getting a closer look at highly successful initiatives such as CDPHP’s Enhanced Primary Care program and Independent Health’s Primary Value payment models. These models have demonstrated better clinical outcomes, superior patient experience, and avoidance of costly downstream ER visits and hospitalizations.

What one thing about your work do you want people working outside primary care to know or understand?

Telehealth is here to stay and is critical to primary care’s future. While usage has declined since the peak of the pandemic, data I’ve seen from community health plans still show significant adoption gains, notably among Medicaid beneficiaries and those engaging with mental healthcare services. To meet evolving consumer demands and better reach rural, underserved and at-risk populations, we need to advocate for continued flexibilities in telehealth. We also need to bridge the “digital divide” to ensure equitable access to telehealth, both from a technology-availability and digital-literacy perspective. One rural health plan I spoke with has started a program that trains senior populations on using smartphones and wearable devices, and it’s staffed by local, volunteer high school students. I love that creativity, and I have a teenage son who would be great at that.

Looking back on your career, what’s the most significant contribution to primary care that you or your team have made?

Supporting primary care practices as they transition into value-based care contracts. While at Evolent Health, I remember visiting primary care offices in southwest Ohio, including one led by two older physicians and staff who had worked together for over 20 years. Our team was sharing new analytic reports and the launch of programs focused on complex care management and hospital transitions to prevent avoidable readmissions. Through discussions like these, I gained a healthy appreciation for the level of commitment and effort required of practice leaders to shift and adapt long-standing, operational processes. I really enjoyed working with this health system as a whole and celebrated when they later achieved target on their quality measures.

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