By Daniel Siegeltuch
The World Affairs Council-Washington, DC hosted its inaugural Corporation of the Year Award on November 12, 2015 in The Fourth Estate dining room at the National Press Club. At noon, the WAC-DC welcomed distinguished guests, business leaders and diplomats to the ceremony honoring Cigna, with CEO David Cordani accepting the award on behalf of his company’s long-standing commitment to corporate social responsibility. Also among the esteemed guests were Health and Human S ervices Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who spoke in a fireside chat with The Honorable Nick Rahall, and WAC-DC Vice-Chair Rich Merski, who each received an award recognizing their exemplary public service and leadership.
As the reception ended and guests took their seats, Tony Culley-Foster, WAC-DC President and CEO, ascended to the podium to begin the ceremony. The mission of the World Affairs Council-Washington, DC, he commenced, is closely aligned with that of Secretary Burwell’s office and Cigna under Mr. Cordani’s direction: the promotion of “knowledge transfer, community empowerment and global social responsibility.” The WAC-DC, he continued, understands the need to connect with people with “the power and ability to make positive change” in order to advance its mission. Mr. Culley-Foster emphasized that Cigna under Mr. Cordani’s leadership, with its consistent drive to serve as a positive change-maker, has earned the Council’s inaugural Corporation of the Year Award.
Mr. Culley-Foster invited former West Virginia Congressman and WAC-DC Board Member The Honorable Nick Rahall, a “remarkable public servant,” to the stage to introduce Secretary Burwell. Mr. Rahall proclaimed Secretary Burwell as an “energetic, passionate, and involved individual” who brought a “new style” both to the HHS and to Washington, DC, who will go down as the “greatest Secretary of Health and Human Services this country has ever known” for her unwavering dedication to improving national and global healthcare.
Secretary Burwell joined her former mentor Mr. Rahall on stage for a conversation to discuss her work. Responding to Mr. Rahall’s inquiry about her global health initiatives, Secretary Burwell noted a theme in her discussions with youth across the world: their common engagement in the future of healthcare. She observed that young people in the United States, however, were not as interested in the relationship between health and government, explaining that young people, “don’t know that they can play a role in government,” or that government provides the opportunity to “create change at scale.” One of her office’s goals, she stated, is to connect young people’s enthusiasm “about what the world can be…the possibility of a better world,” to government as an engine for this transformation.
Reflecting on her role in the effort to combat the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Secretary Burwell declared that the crisis demonstrated that “we are all connected” throughout the world and thus “only as strong as the weakest link”; only well-coordinated systems were able to prevent the outbreak’s advance. When Ebola was detected in Lagos, Nigeria, she recalled, healthcare workers used contact tracing skills from an earlier fight to detect polio in order to contain Ebola’s spread in the city. This achievement, she affirmed, exemplifies the HHS’s number one global priority, the investment in worldwide global health security. The United States, in partnership with 30 countries, she told the audience, is committed to detecting, responding to, and preventing outbreaks of infectious disease through strong systems that are prepared to secure global health in the next crisis.
Turning her attention to her domestic health priorities, Secretary Burwell articulated her plan to strengthen the Affordable Care Act. On the issue of access to care, she stressed the importance of continuing to increase the number of insured Americans. While the Act has insured 17.6 million Americans as of November 1st, 2015, reducing the number of uninsured citizens by 45%, Secretary Burwell indicated her commitment to insuring millions more throughout her service. Concerning the affordability of care, she noted that the cost of healthcare premiums is at a much lower level than before the Act was passed; 7 in 10 of the 10.5 million eligible people in the healthcare market are able to purchase a plan for $75 dollars or less. Secretary Burwell also indicated her goal to improve consumers’ ease of access by simplifying eligibility requirements. One new service to simplify access, she related, is an online estimator that factors a person’s premium, deductible, and copay to determine eligibility. Another service introduced with the Secretary’s direction is an open-enrollment system that provides help to registrants on the phone, online, and in person in both English and Spanish, underscoring the idea that consumers “can get help where they need it” and in the language they need.
“We are in a transformational time in healthcare,” Secretary Burwell continued. The cost issues before the Affordable Care Act “were not sustainable.” Under her guidance, she avowed, the United States will lead in a shift towards a model with an “educated, empowered and informed consumer at the center of the system.” Customers will pay for “value not volume” of services, and healthcare providers will change how they deliver care. Secretary Burwell announced her desire to place a primary care physician at the helm of each person’s healthcare team, who will serve as “the prime contractor that helps you with the subs”, assisting patients in assembling an integrated team to coordinate treatment. Following the Secretary’s remarks, Edie Fraser, Chair of the WAC-DC Board of Directors, joined her onstage, and praising her “style, dedication, and sense of leadership” in bringing “quality healthcare to the nation and the world,” before presenting her with the Distinguished Public Service Award for her accomplishments.
WAC-DC Vice-Chair Michael Norris came to the stage to introduce Cigna CEO David Cordani, who he remarked had doubled business at Cigna while also demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility by doing “not just good things, but right things.” Mr. Cordani came to the podium at Mr. Norris’ invitation and announced that it is a “privilege, honor, and responsibility” for Cigna to have an impact on lives around the world. Thanking Secretary Burwell for her leadership, Mr. Cordani continued his address, expressing his gratitude for the “opportunity and responsibility to improve the health, well-being, and sense of security” of the communities that Cigna serves.
Acknowledging distinguished guest His Excellency Ho-Young Ahn, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Cordani elaborated on some of the health initiatives that Cigna has undertaken in South Korea in partnership with Korean companies, such as the introduction of mobile dental clinics to underserved populations. This work, he emphasized, is made possible by his “passionate, engaged, and committed colleagues striving to make a difference” in global health outcomes. The difference, he added, happens “day to day, person to person,” and, echoing Secretary Burwell, results in change at scale. Mr. Norris, joined by Mrs. Fraser, presented Mr. Cordani with the Corporation of the Year Award in recognition of Cigna’s dedication to global corporate social responsibility. As he accepted the plaque, Mr. Cordani remarked, “This award gives us fuel to continue driving change,” and thanked the Council for the honor.
Following this presentation, the honorees and guests sat down to a lunch that featured herb-crusted chicken, potato gratin and season vegetables. As the plates were cleared and the clatter of utensils subsided, Mr. Culley-Foster took once more to the podium and spoke admiringly about Board Member Rich Merski, who he remarked had served for 25 years as a “deep and effective member of the Board” in addition to acting as a “revered and respected member of the Cigna family.” In honor of his significant contributions, Mr. Culley-Foster presented Mr. Merski with the Outstanding International Affairs Leadership Award.
To complete the ceremony, Mr. Culley-Foster invited two participants in WAC-DC’s Global Education programs to share their experiences with the audience. The first, George Mason High School junior Anna DubBro, a participant in the 2015 Young Ambassadors program to Costa Rica, talked about how the immersive cultural exchange enriched her global perspective. Anna reflected on how the experience taught her “the importance of being present and looking for the beauty in the simplest of tasks,” and shared how she learned to communicate by “engaging with real people and taking part in meaningful conversations” that helped her to shape her understanding of the world and strengthen her self-confidence.
The next presenter, Julie Caccamise, Wilson High School Social Studies teacher and a participant in the Global Education Teacher Exchange Program in South Africa, related her experience to a remark that Mr. Cordani had made about Cigna’s ability to impact lives around the world. “That’s a powerful statement,” she determined, “that everyone from a global company and a government leader to a student and a teacher has the capacity to reach across the world to make a difference.” Ms. Caccamise expressed her appreciation that the WAC-DC program created a way to “engage deeply with a community we don’t have access to” and serves as a powerful tool for students and teachers thousands of miles away to collaborate with one another. Ms. Caccamise explained that she and her South African teaching partner are using social media tools such as Instagram to explore students’ perspectives of each other, learn about current events, dispel myths and investigate common qualities and well as drastic differences in their lives. The program, she asserted, “re-energized me as a teacher and helped my students recognize a space outside their own,” a crucial step in the formation of a young person’s worldview. In the spirit of the ceremony’s recognition of global responsibility, Ms. Caccamise concluded by stating “we need to get people connected” and help people to realize “that we share experiences” across cultures; that will be the force that propels positive change.
After an enthusiastic applause for Ms. Caccamise’s closing remarks, Mr. Culley-Foster thanked the distinguished honorees, guests, and sponsors and noted his sincere gratitude for their support of the Council.