Interview: Leaving No Seniors Behind During COVID-19

posted by AHIP

on May 12, 2021

As one of the largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, SCAN Health Plan is dedicated to keeping seniors healthy and independent. During COVID-19, that includes making sure they have timely, equitable access to vaccines. In April, SCAN became the first health insurance provider to vaccinate homebound members and their caregivers in their homes.

Leaders from SCAN recently answered some questions for us about how they’re helping older adults during the pandemic and addressing health equity needs.

The onset of COVID-19 has revealed health and social inequities that affect people from diverse communities. But health equity issues have been a focus for SCAN Health Plan for many years. How so? And how have you seen approaches to equity change? 

Dr. Romilla Batra, SCAN Chief Medical Officer: Over the years, SCAN’s work to close gaps in health equity has increased as the health care system gets more advanced in pinpointing where these disparities and inequities exist. For example, health insurance providers like SCAN are expanding the use of technology to advance the identification of disparities so that interventions can be made earlier to reduce hospitalizations and improve overall health outcomes.

SCAN is also taking a strong position against the many health inequities that exist in health care today. One way we are doing this is emphasizing on expanding diversity and inclusion within the organization. This is key to developing not only a strong company culture but also to providing high-quality, culturally competent care to diverse populations. SCAN has also taken its commitment to equity a step further by tying the organization’s executive bonus program to the reduction of health disparities and inequities among the populations we serve.

What are some ways SCAN is meeting the medical and social needs of its members?  

Dr. Batra: At SCAN we believe in person-centered care, meaning that not only do we address the health concerns of our members, but also the other factors that affect their daily lives. It is amazing how small interventions can make a big difference. With this in mind, SCAN provides members with social supports, including meals, groceries, transportation, community resources, and one-on-one technology support to help them get online in a tech-driven world. Since the start of the pandemic, SCAN has delivered care packages with essentials such as shelf stable foods, toilet paper, facemasks, hand sanitizer, and thermometers. And we coordinated the delivery of over 30,000 meals to approximately 1,300 members. Understanding that loneliness and isolation have been exacerbated by the pandemic, impacting the health and wellbeing of older adults, SCAN employees from across the organization made over 160,000 routine check-in calls to our members.

In addition, we support our members by conducting follow-ups with their long-term care facilities about the business continuity plans for residents and staff to make sure they are safe and have their needs met. We also train our Member Services Advocates to escalate any behavioral health access issues and delays and support our members in setting up mail-order medication deliveries through Express Scripts Pharmacy to improve medication adherence and outcomes.

How can health insurance providers help build confidence around COVID-19 vaccines? How can we make the vaccine rollout more inclusive?

Sharon Jhawar, SCAN Chief Pharmacy Officer: We believe health insurance providers play a large role in building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. In February, SCAN commissioned a national survey among family caregivers, including an oversample of Black and Hispanic caregivers, about their stance on the COVID-19 vaccine. The results revealed that, in addition to a large percentage harboring concerns about vaccine safety, health insurance providers ranked high on the list among Hispanic and African American respondents as a trusted source of information. That tells us that we have a lot of influence with our members when it comes to making health decisions.

To reduce reluctance among our Spanish-speaking and Black members, we are conducting culturally driven outreach activities to help them determine if the vaccine is right for them, while equipping them with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. As part of our outreach, SCAN hosts COVID-19 TeleTalks (telephone education sessions) in English and Spanish with leaders from each respective community, who address concerns and answer questions.

SCAN has also executed a number of initiatives to reduce the barriers that our members face when trying to acquire a COVID vaccine appointment. For our members who can access a vaccination site, SCAN, in collaboration with Ralphs pharmacy, is hosting a series of vaccination events at our Long Beach headquarters for members and their family members.

To assist members with tech challenges, SCAN is reaching out to help them sign up for appointments online. For our homebound members experiencing challenges accessing vaccinations, SCAN launched an innovative program, in partnership with MedArrive, to dispatch EMTs and Paramedics to administer COVID-19 vaccines at home for both members and their family members. This innovative vaccination program, the first of its kind, enables SCAN to take matters into its own hands to vaccinate members and make the rollout more equitable.

In addition to these efforts, SCAN is working with community organizations and hospitals to find available open COVID-19 vaccine appointments for our most vulnerable members and assist in arranging transportation and registering them, and is collaborating with the California Department of Health Care Services to vaccinate older adults who are experiencing homelessness.

Is there anything we can learn from SCAN’s COVID-19 strategies? 

Jhawar: We think there’s always plenty to learn from organizations like ours—about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s what we learned, and we think is applicable to others.

  • We had to help one member at a time with their specific needs. Continual communication to members is essential.
  • We monitor vaccination of our membership by county, race, SNI, income, age, gender, language etc. Data like this is necessary if you want to know who’s getting vaccinated—and who you need to help get vaccinated.
  • SCAN launched a COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline (1-855-669-7226) with staff dedicated to helping members navigate the process of registering and receiving vaccines. We also developed a member COVID-19 phone queue to address member questions about the vaccine.
  • We shared specific provider group data with Optum Medical Group, Scripps Medical Group, Providence Medical Group, etc., to promote targeted vaccine distribution. This includes information on chronic conditions, member demographics on race, ethnicity, and language, as well as low-income subsidy data and homebound indicators.
  • We connected members with our Health Tech line for step by step guidance on how to use telehealth (in lieu of face-to-face appointments) during the pandemic.
  • SCAN established a “Provider Integration Task Force” with the provider organizations that serve most of our membership. SCAN collaborates with provider groups, pharmacies, and community partners on our “leave no senior behind” vaccination efforts.
  • We update talking points for members facing staff and our website daily to reflect the latest information about COVID-19.