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Working to Advance Health Equity

Everyone deserves affordable high-quality health coverage and care regardless of the individual qualities that make us who we are, like our race, gender, disability, or health status. Health insurance providers are working to improve health equity by addressing health care disparities; removing social barriers to good health; and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Growing Access to Safe, Affordable Housing

  • CVS Health addressed housing insecurities and increased access to health care services in underserved communities by investing $185 million in affordable housing. These investments help advance health equity nationwide and support the development and rehabilitation of more than 6,570 affordable housing units in 64 cities across 28 states and Washington, D.C. Affordable housing investments are part of CVS Health’s Health Zones initiative, which provides concentrated local investments designed to reduce health disparities and advance health equity in high-risk communities. Health Zones address six key social determinants of health: housing, education, access to food, labor, transportation, and health care access.
  • Elevance Health has committed over $410 million to affordable housing in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The multi-year effort is addressing and creating a more stable housing environment for many vulnerable individuals, families and those who are living with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Elevance Health specifically invested $87.9 million in affordable housing funds in Indiana, providing 1,139 affordable housing apartment units, townhomes, and single-family homes.

Embracing Food as Medicine

  • CareSource has invested $50,000 in Grady Health System’s Food as Medicine Program, which gives the Atlanta community access to nutritious food. The program aims to tackle chronic disease through healthy eating, particularly for those living in food deserts. An on-site food pharmacy is available to patients who have been screened positive for food insecurity. Patients with food prescriptions can pick fresh produce and a full set of meals to accommodate their dietary needs based on their condition and medications. In addition, the program provides cooking classes so patients can learn how to prepare nutritious meals for themselves.
  • Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri donated $450,000 in support to two organizations, the Southeast Missouri Food Bank and Aging Ahead, to help these nonprofits acquire more food and organize more distribution events for the many families in southeast Missouri and the St. Louis area facing hunger.
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) donated $20,000 worth of food to communities in the Navajo Nation that reside in food deserts where the closest grocery store can be over a 30-minute drive away. The three-month initiative served 1,000 families and delivered over 15,000 pounds of food to residents during food drops at Whitehorse Lake, Torreon, Ojo Encino and Pueblo Pintado.
  • The Elevance Health Foundation is investing up to $30 million to support programs that address food insecurity by helping individuals reach optimal health through good nutrition. As of January 2023, nearly $23 million in food as medicine grants has been awarded.

Providing Legal Help in Health-harming Situations

  • Healthfirst partnered with Mount Sinai Healthcare System and New York Legal Assistance’s health division to pilot a program identifying and addressing legal needs to that could lead to negative health implications, like housing instability, immigration issues, and domestic violence. Over the course of a year, the pilot program resolved 80% of patients’ legal matters linked to health.

Increasing Diverse Representation in Donor Registries

  • Aflac and Be The Match are partnering to diversify the national blood stem cell donor registry through an ongoing digital registration drive. Since 1995, Aflac has contributed more than $160 million to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the largest sickle-cell care provider in the United States. Tissue types used in matching are inherited and unique, so patients are most likely to match someone of the same ethnic ancestry or ethnic background. Given the diversity in tissue types, the odds of a Black or African American patient finding a match is 29%, compared to a white individual, who has a 79% chance.

Extending the Ladder Early to Historically Underrepresented Communities

  • Delta Dental Plan Association knows that representation in the oral health professional workforce leads to better health outcomes. The health insurance provider created a million-dollar fund to help and inspire future dental health pros from historically underrepresented groups, building a pathway for future careers. Delta Dental has also invested nearly $50 million in college and university programs in oral health care.

Expanding Health Information and Services

  • Highmark is working with the Thrive 18 project to improve health equity in Pittsburgh’s North Side. The project provides residents with health education, housing advice, and financial stability and connects them to resources impacting their individual health.
  • UPMC Health Plan and its community partners have opened the UPMC Health Plan Neighborhood Center in Pittsburgh’s East End. The center will also house three Community Health Workers to help individuals with health-related questions on issues such as healthy lifestyles, nutrition, and health related social needs. The center will also offer access to virtual health consultations via UPMC Health Plan’s AnywhereCare telehealth platform, a community food pantry, workforce development programs, a Graduate Equivalent Degree program, and other social services.

Diversifying the Workforce

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has jumped from #316 in 2019 to #15 in 2022 on the Forbes’ Best Employers for Diversity List. Part of the work that has earned the company this honor is its collaboration with North Carolina community colleges to help educate, train, and license professionals to prepare them for a career in health insurance sales. At Durham Technical Community College, for example, Blue Cross NC offers a scholarship that covers insurance pre-licensing courses, the workforce development courses, and the licensing fee for each insurance exam for selected recipients.

Working with Local Groups to Reduce Health Inequities

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas awarded $150,000 to It’s Time Texas, a health advocacy organization that supports local organizations and agencies across the state focused on reducing social and health inequities. It’s Time Texas awarded several sub-grants to community-based organizations that mobilize and rapidly deploy resources where they are needed most. Funding supports the delivery of effective programs and services that improve critical health outcomes, address root causes of health disparities, remove barriers to access, and advance community conditions for health and wellness.

Partnering with Fire and Rescue to Reach Underserved Communities

  • Care Oregon, worked with Portland Fire and Rescue to support the Community Health Assess and Treat (CHAT) program, which is designed to be a proactive intervention, reaching community members in their time of need with one-on-one support from a medical professional. In Q1 2022, the program’s first full quarter of operation, 40% of 366 eligible 911 calls were diverted to CHAT, which leverages the strengths of the fire department to provide appropriate support for non-emergent health issues and direction to resources for finding health care in the future. The program also helps reduce the number of individuals going to the emergency department for non-emergent issues. CareOregon has invested $2.5 million in the CHAT program to date.

Bringing Culturally Appropriate Care to Underserved Communities

  • Oscar Health’s Culturally Competent Care Grant program is focused on providing care to patients with diverse values, beliefs, and behaviors, including tailoring delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural, and linguistic needs. Now in its second year, the program selected organizations — focusing on women’s health and cancer detection, holistic care for underserved communities, and financially disadvantaged women — to each receive a $50,000 Culturally Competent Care Grant in 2022.

Helping Moms Have Healthy Babies

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, as well as fellow BCBS plans in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas are supporting the nonprofit Centering Healthcare Institute (CHI) to expand the program’s reach in their states. BCBSIL is targeting communities of color and other places that data shows disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. Nationwide, CHI has helped implement Centering Pregnancy programs at 500 clinics in 44 states. Receiving prenatal care late in a pregnancy or not at all increases risk of pregnancy complications and maternal deaths. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, no matter their insurance coverage, employment status, or educational background.
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation have awarded $270,000 in grant awards to seven organizations through the Advancing Maternal Health Equity grant program. Funds will support Michigan community-based organizations implementing sustainable initiatives that advance health equity and reduce a birthing person’s risk of maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity. The Advancing Maternal Health Equity grant program is targeted toward community-based organizations serving areas with the highest fetal and infant mortality, as well as maternal mortality rates, with a goal of advancing maternal health equity by addressing disparities-related factors in maternal health. This grant program is part of BCBSM’s multi-year health equity strategy to address disparities and aligns with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association goal to reduce racial disparities in maternal health by 50% in five years.

Creating Health Equity Accreditation Programs

  • Nine health care organizations have been accredited by a new health equity program offered by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). The nine participated in an eight-month-long pilot of the Health Equity Accreditation (HEA) Plus program — meant to build on the existing HEA program. The Plus program is for participants with a solid foundation for addressing equity that are seeking to partner with community-based organizations to better address their patients’ or members’ social needs.

More Work Underway

The list above has just a few of the creative examples of how health insurance providers are addressing health inequities in their communities. Discover more than 300 ways they are addressing social factors on community health.

Shaping Social Determinants of Health

How health insurance providers are shaping the social factors that determine health outcomes.

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