An interview with Dr. Talya Schwartz, president
and chief executive officer MetroPlusHealth
TIMESLEDGER | QNS.COM | OCT. 15 - OCT. 21, 2021 3
BY QNS STAFF
Dr. Talya Schwartz was appointed president and
CEO of MetroPlusHealth in 2019. During her tenure,
MetroPlusHealth has achieved a 20% growth
in membership, earned a five-star rating from New
York State’s Consumer Guide, and been ranked
the No. 1 health plan in New York State for quality.
MetroPlusHealth is part of NYC Health + Hospitals
public health system.
Q: What drives you to lead MetroPlusHealth’s
efforts to battle breast cancer?
A: First, as president and CEO of
MetroPlusHealth and as a physician, I am committed
to addressing the social determinants of health
among New York’s most vulnerable communities.
Our aim is to actively ensure that MetroPlusHealth
remains at the forefront of supporting its members
through holistic, hands-on supportive care. This
means preventive care for all New Yorkers. There’s
no such thing as not being able to afford a mammogram
when you live in New York City. We will work
with members and make certain that they can and
will receive critical screenings.
What drives me every day is quite simply the
health and well-being of our members. There’s nothing
more important to us. Our staff goes the extra
mile every day. We routinely send educational materials
and reminders, by mail and text messaging, to
women who are due for a mammogram. Information
on the importance of early detection is also posted
on our member portal. We work hard to educate our
members about the importance of screening and early
detection. Similarly, clinical gaps-in-care reports
are sent to our providers so that they can follow up
with members who are due for mammograms during
We even offer incentives to members who complete
their breast cancer screening through the MetroPlus
Member Rewards Program (metroplusrewards.
Q: How has the pandemic affected what
you do for your members?
A: No question that we saw unprecedented
challenges within the entire health care community,
yet, according to the New York State
Department of Health’s 2020 Quality Incentive
results, MetroPlusHealth was ranked
number one among all 15 New York State Medicaid
plans in overall quality. While we have
always scored high in quality, achieving the
No. 1 spot during a global pandemic speaks
volumes about the dedicated people at our
company who rose to the occasion.
Some key factors that contributed
to the top ranking, where
MetroPlusHealth scored above
90% of state benchmarks, were
care related to diabetes, hypertension,
substance abuse disorders
and mental illness. Our streamlined
process of working with NYC Health +
Hospitals and its community providers also helped.
Sharing data, education and member support were
important factors, as was working to bring members
in for care, especially those with the highest and
most immediate needs.
We could not be prouder of our team and our
provider partners or more thankful to our members
for entrusting their health coverage with us.
Q: Which groups should be the most
concerned about breast cancer?
A: Starting at age 50, women need a mammogram
every one to two years to screen for breast cancer
and some women may choose to start routine mammograms
even prior to age 50. But breast cancer can
occur in younger women, and women should perform
self breast exams and not delay
evaluation if they have any concerns
regardless of age. When
you see your doctor, you should
discuss your risk factors and
make sure you’re doing everything
you can to keep your
breasts healthy. If you have
close relatives with breast
cancer, you may be at higher
risk. If you are at a higher risk,
your doctor may suggest earlier
screening or more regular or intensive
Q: What are the most common
(and not so common) risk factors
for breast cancer?
A: According to the CDC, there
are risk factors you can change
and those you cannot:
These are risks you cannot
Getting older: The risk
for breast cancer increases
with age; most breast cancers are
diagnosed after age 50.
Genetic mutations: Inherited changes (mutations)
to certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Women who have inherited these genetic changes are
at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer.
Reproductive history: Early menstrual periods
before age 12 and starting menopause after age 55 expose
women to hormones longer, raising their risk of
getting breast cancer.
Having dense breasts: Dense breasts have more
connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can sometimes
make it hard to see tumors on a mammogram.
Personal history of breast cancer or certain
non-cancerous breast diseases: Women who have
had breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer
a second time. Some non-cancerous breast diseases,
such as atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma
in situ are associated with a higher risk of getting
Family history of breast or ovarian cancer: A
woman’s risk for breast cancer is higher if she has
a mother, sister or daughter (first-degree relative)
or multiple family members who have had breast or
ovarian cancer. Having a close male relative with
breast cancer also raises a woman’s risk.
Previous treatment using radiation therapy:
Women who had radiation therapy to the chest or
breasts (for instance, treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma)
before age 30 have a higher risk of getting
breast cancer later in life.
Women who took the drug diethylstilbestrol
(DES), which was given to some pregnant women in
the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent
miscarriage, have a higher risk. Women whose mothers
took DES while pregnant with them are also at
However, luckily, there are risk factors you can
change. These include getting more exercise, losing
weight, quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol.
Q: How far has the medical community come
in treating breast cancer?
A: Researchers are finding new and better ways to
diagnose and treat breast cancer every day. Whether
it’s nanotechnology or improved tests, there are
amazing breakthroughs every year. Improved imaging,
targeted therapy, liquid biopsies and even artificial
intelligence to help better read mammograms
are areas where advancements are underway. There
are new drugs and therapies in test stages all the
time. Objectives here are to develop less-toxic treatments
with fewer side effects that are also more effective.
Patients can ask their doctors about clinical
trials that may be available for several of these new
Q: What are some ways that people can actively
prevent breast cancer or, God forbid, catch it
A: The best ways to protect yourself is to stop smoking,
limit your alcohol consumption, try to be physically
active and watch your weight. Of course, the most
critical action you can take is to do regular self breast
exams and also to make an appointment with your local
provider for a mammogram when you get older. I would
urge women not to delay important screenings like
this because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our
partners at NYC Health + Hospitals have adjusted their
waiting areas, registration desks and exam rooms to
keep you safe when you come to see a doctor. You should
also be aware of early warning signs. A new lump in
the breast or underarm, thickening or swelling of part
of the breast can be warning signs. Dimpling of breast
skin, redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the
breast, a nipple that turns in or becomes sunken can be
other signs. If you experience any of these, you should
see your doctor as soon as possible.
For more information about MetroPlusHealth
plans, benefits, and services, visit metroplus.org and
join the conversation at facebook.com/metroplushealth
and twitter @metroplushealth. MetroPlusHealth is
part of NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest
public health system.
DR. TALYA SCHWARTZ