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Aetna's CEO Mark Bertolini on the future of the health care system

Aetna (AET) CEO Mark Bertolini joined Yahoo Finance’s Julia La Roche for a wide-ranging discussion on the future of health care and how to improve the patient experience.

Bertolini shared his own personal medical challenges from his son beating a rare and deadly for of lymphoma to him surviving spinal cord injury from a terrible ski accident.

“The biggest message out of all of those for me was that the health care system fixes what’s broken,” Bertolini told Yahoo Finance.

He explained that this sort of approach is one of the drivers behind rising health care costs. Another driver of costs is that Americans have “lost hope in their health” due to the opioid epidemic.

American citizens consume 80% of the opioid produced in the world. He added that many Americans, especially in the Midwest, have family members or know someone addicted to opioids.

“The vast majority of Americans, more than 75%, know somebody addicted to opioids and so people have given up,” Bertolini said.

“And so this idea of loss of hope and a system we’re focused on fixing broken things creates this very high-cost structure for us as a country that’s standing in the way of social determinants,” he said. “We’re not investing in social programs; we’re waiting for people to be broken and [so we can] fix them.”

Mark Bertolini
Mark Bertolini

Aetna has focused its efforts on going into the communities and investing in social programs such as urban farms and yoga and mindfulness.

Yoga and mindfulness has also permeated the workplace at Aetna. Through that initiative, Aetna’s leadership learned about some of the everyday stressors their own employees face. That led to the company raising the minimum wage to $16 per hour. The company also implemented a program that rewards employees for sleeping 7.5 hours for 20 consecutive nights.

As for the health care debate in D.C., Bertolini doesn’t think the Affordable Care Act can be repealed, but it can be fixed.

Bertolini noted that other major social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have been bipartisan and they have been tweaked over the years. The ACA hasn’t been changed since it was passed.

“Any of those other programs wouldn’t work had we left them alone for seven years,” Bertolini said. “So this idea of it financially fraying at the edges… Its original rules and conditions aren’t what the world’s like today and those need to change.”

“Unfortunately, we have these politics of repeal that sits out there that really legitimately, in the Senate, can’t be done. It really can’t be repealed. It can be defunded, but it can’t be repealed.”

He is, however, hopeful a bipartisan fix can happen.

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.