Skip to Content

The Rise of the Chief Health Equity Officer


Health insurance providers have for years focused on reducing disparities and promoting access to care and services that meet people where they are.

Published Apr 20, 2022 • by AHIP

Health insurance providers have for years focused on reducing disparities and promoting access to care and services that meet people where they are. Despite these longstanding efforts, health insurance providers understand the imperative to continue making real differences in the health of the customers by advancing the issue of health equity even further. An important opportunity now is for health equity to become more embedded into the overall structure and culture of how health insurance providers’ and their ecosystems deliver services. Adding focused, empowered leadership through the role of chief health equity officer is a key means to ensure advancement through collaboration, accountability, and impactful outcomes.

The importance of addressing inequities in health care is well established. And for good reason. Research has shown that racial and ethnic minority communities are disproportionately impacted by social determinants of health, the non-medical factors that influence a person’s health and well-being.

As we increase our understanding of how these factors impact health along with the successful business models to address them, the value of building a more equitable health care system becomes clear. It provides everyone with opportunities to live healthier lives through more accessible and appropriate care and services that address their clinical and non-clinical needs. This is fertile ground for dedicated leadership.

“Health insurance providers are deeply focused on this issue. We applaud our members for being intentional in addressing health inequities and the systemic challenges that face our health system and society,” said John Mathewson, AHIP’s chief operating officer. “The leadership of individuals serving as health equity officers is just one step of many that health insurance providers are taking for their customers and respective communities. AHIP and our membership will continue the hard work to deliver positive change and improve health equity.”

Here are a few ways our members are elevating top talent to meet the growing need:

  • Anthem, Inc. chose Darrell Gray, M.D., to serve as its inaugural chief health equity officer. There he leads the execution of a comprehensive strategy to advance health equity through a whole health approach (addressing physical, behavioral, social and pharmacy needs) among Anthem’s more than 45 million members and in the communities Anthem serves.
  • Bright Health hired Tom Valdivia, M.D., as its chief health and equity officer. His primary responsibility is ensuring everyone in the community has access to affordable, high-quality care.
  • Centene recently brought on Shara Wesley as Chief Health Equity and Diversity Officer with Managed Health Services, Centene’s Indiana subsidiary. Her main mission is embedding health equity into a matrix of strategies, including functional areas like external affairs, quality, population health, network development, and medical affairs — all to improve health outcomes and member experience.
  • CVS Health brought on Joneigh Khaldun, M.D., to serve as its new vice president and chief health equity officer. She and her team focus on culturally competent care delivery across several CVS Health programs and initiatives. She is also tasked with collaborating with the broader health care system to advance health equity and better support underserved communities.
  • Florida Blue selected Kelli Tice, M.D., as its first chief health equity officer. Dr. Tice’s key responsibilities include creating solutions that improve health outcomes and addressing health inequities for the customers and the communities Florida Blue and GuideWell serve.
  • Humana Inc. named Nwando Olayiwola, M.D., to the position of senior vice president and chief health equity officer. Dr. Olayiwola’s work established enterprise-wide measures of equity and coordinated efforts to improve health equity across all the company’s lines of business.
  • L.A. Care promoted James Kyle, M.D., to a new position of chief of equity and quality medical director in 2021. It also launched its first-ever health equity department devoted to erasing disparities and advancing equity for both its members and the communities they share.
  • Sutter Health elected Leon Clark to serve as its chief research and health equity officer after launching its Institute for Advancing Health Equity. He and his team use analytics to measure, and then reduce, disparities in health coverage and monitor levels of equity and access to care across the Sutter Health system.
  • UCare named Joy Marsh associate vice president of equity and inclusion in 2021. In her role, Marsh leads UCare’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and its work to advance health and racial equity among the community.

Health insurance providers know well that health goes beyond the doctor’s office. Access to healthy foods, reliable transportation, high-quality health care services, good jobs, and safe housing are all important contributors of community health, and individual well-being.

But they also know inequity is a deep, systemic structural challenge that won’t be fixed without sustained effort and leadership. Learn more about health insurance providers’ expansive commitments and progress on improving health equity here.