Every change must start with something – a spark. Whether that spark is loud, immediate, and forceful, or quiet, slow moving, and subtle, a spark is where change begins. In 2017, Bruce Romanello and Lucious Coleman, Jr. had a moment where they realized they could make a change. They had a spark as they looked at the opportunity to launch a Medicare Advantage plan in Atlanta, Georgia.
With decades invested in the healthcare space, they both saw the same issue - healthcare has become an industry so big that it can make the individuals inside of it feel forgotten, unseen or invaluable. With problems such as high prescription costs or experiencing a confusing continuum of care, many of us have felt our healthcare brought more issues than aid. For two men that believe every person matters, they saw a need that they could help fill. So they got to work.
Naming our plan was easy once we had a purpose and our purpose was founded in what Bruce and Lucious knew was critical – that healthcare begin treating every person as the unique individual he or she is. The health plan should reflect that with not only it’s benefits, but with how it treated every member. That’s when a new word entered the picture: sonder.
“Sonder,” our namesake, has existed for less than a decade in the English language, hailing from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. According to the Obscure Sorrows, Sonder’s definition is the realization that every person, even each random passerby, is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, complete with his or her own aspirations, joys, fears and experiences unique to that individual. In short, sonder is the moment one recognizes that everyone has a story.
The stranger in the car next to you in rush hour traffic, the person placing her order in front of you at your favorite coffee shop, even that telemarketer calling from across the globe - they all have a story unique to their walk in life. And when that is realized, you have experienced sonder. And when you realize everyone has a story just like you, it’s an opportunity to treat that person as valuable and as important as yourself.
Wouldn’t that be something if healthcare treated every person with sonder? Bruce and Lucious were on a mission to make that happen. To be the change for Georgia’s healthcare beginning with Atlanta.
Launching the health plan was no small feat. It takes years of building and approval from overseeing entities. But in the middle of 2020, at the height of a terrifying, global pandemic, Sonder Health Plans was approved to go live.
The pandemic helped blast a spotlight onto some of the problems in healthcare, namely the disparities between who someone was and his or her level of health and care. It’s a large problem and there are no easy ways to tackle it. So, Bruce and Lucious began focusing in on two popular health conditions: cardiovascular conditions and diabetes.
One study found that rates of skipping a dose of medication or not filling a prescription for cost reasons were more than twice as high among Americans aged 65 and older than among older adults in other high-income countries. Across America, the discussion around diabetes and cost of insulin has become a hot button issue. People can’t afford their insulin. And it’s killing people. The American Diabetes Association shared in 2020 that roughly 27% of diabetics cannot afford their insulin and therefore may be rationing or going without entirely.
Bruce and Lucious decided the opportunity to make change started with insulin copays. They believe no matter what part of Atlanta you’re coming from, whatever financial status you sit at, you matter – and you should be able to afford your insulin. So the number to shoot for on insulin copays was an easy choice – zero. A zero-dollar copay across the board on any insulin. And that benefit was added to Sonder Health Plans’ Diabetes Wellness special needs plan. Every member in that plan would receive that benefit.
SONDER FOUNDERS, BRUCE ROMANELLO AND LUCIOUS COLEMAN, JR.
They didn’t stop there. Not only are Americans not taking their insulin, but they are also skipping doctor visits. About one in 12 people 65 and older — postponed or did not seek a consultation about their medical problem or get a recommended medical test, treatment, or follow-up examination. This was another chance to impact those living with diabetes, and those living with other chronic conditions as well. A zero-dollar copay on visiting a specialist doctor could help. So, this too was built into all Sonder plans. A person living with diabetes could go to his endocrinologist and go pick up their insulin right afterwards, all for a zero-dollar cost.
Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Healthcare and its problems may sometimes feel like that; it’s a large system that needs an overwhelming amount of complexities and issues that need fixing within it. Bruce and Lucious looked at the elephant and decided it was time to start working on it, starting with Atlanta.
They were passionate about creating healthcare plans that saw people as people. Each with a story, with value, and with unique needs to be met. Sonder Health Plans isn’t simply rooted in a word that reflected their mindset; it was rooted in the people Sonder Health Plans is driven to make a change for.
One spark at a time.