The Aetna Foundation (AF) was established in 1972 by John Filer, then-CEO of the Aetna Corporation, to function as the company’s philanthropic arm. From 1980 through 2013, the Corporation and Foundation together contributed more than $427 million in grants and sponsorships to recipients that embraced ideals consistent with the Foundation’s mission of “promot[ing] wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone.”
Among AF’s more noteworthy grantees are the Brookings Institution, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Council on Foundations, the Greenlining Institute, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the National Council of La Raza, the National Urban League, the National Women’s Law Center, the Urban Institute, and the YWCA. To view a list of additional AF grant recipients, click here.
The Aetna Foundation’s grants and sponsorships focus on five major program areas:
(1) Obesity: Because obesity “is a significant driver of increased medical costs” and “[raises] the risk for many chronic diseases,” AF bankrolls initiatives that explore “the root causes of the obesity epidemic” in the U.S.—“particularly among minority populations”—and the types of policies and practices that tend to promote “better choices that can stave off overeating and reduce inactivity.” Key considerations, says AF, include “how children use recreation time” and “how school lunch and food policies” impact them—precisely the issues addressed by First Lady Michelle Obama‘s “Let’s Move” initiative (to reduce childhood obesity), which AF enthusiastically supports.
(2) Racial and Ethnic Health Care Equity: Lamenting that “inequities persist in the health and health care of various racial and ethnic minorities in America,” AF asserts that African Americans and Hispanics “tend to receive [a] lower quality of health care across a range of disease areas.” To address this concern, the Foundation directs significant funding toward programs designed to “improve health and health care among the nation’s Medicaid population, particularly in settings with large numbers of minority patients.” Reasoning from the premise that nonwhites tend to suffer from higher levels of stress than their white counterparts, AF is particularly interested in studies examining whether stress-reduction programs that incorporate yoga or meditation can improve health outcomes for minority patients with chronic conditions, or postnatal outcomes for mothers and pregnant women.
(3) Integrated Health Care: Under the umbrella of this program, AF funds a variety of organizations and research projects that promote healthcare models wherein a primary-care physician assumes responsibility for “managing all of a patient’s needs across providers and settings”—i.e., communicating and collaborating with specialists, therapists, facilities administrators, social workers, nurses, and others.
(4) Digital Health Technology: In February 2014, AF announced that, as part of a three-year, $4 million digital-health-technology commitment it had already made, the Foundation would soon be awarding more than $1.2 million in grants to support the use of such technology in helping “vulnerable and minority populations.” These particular grants would go to 23 organizations across 13 states, including healthcare organizations, regional hospitals, and grassroots activist groups.
(5) Scholars Programs: AF supports several initiatives designed not only to “attract more men and women from underrepresented minority groups” to careers in the healthcare professions, but also to persuade them to work with “medically underserved and safety-net population groups.”
Dr. Garth Graham has been AF’s president since September 2013. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he also led the Office of Minority Health. In that capacity, Graham introduced new federal grant programs designed to address “inequities in health care and health outcomes among the nation’s minority and vulnerable communities.” He also guided the development of the first federal action plan to “eliminate health disparities” under the Obama administration, and helped implement key “health equity” provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
For additional information on the Aetna Foundation, click here.
 Grants awarded by AF typically support: research designed to “deepen [our] knowledge about the causes of poor health outcomes and find solutions”; policy analysis that examines “how courses of action influence people’s health and the health care they receive”; and programs intended to “help people live healthier lives.”(Information on grantees and monetary amounts courtesy of The Foundation Center, GuideStar, ActivistCash, the Capital Research Centerand Undue Influence)