; In An Effort To Raise Awareness About Healthcare Disparities, The Blue Cross And Blue Shield Association Supports National Minority Health Month
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Press Release

In An Effort To Raise Awareness About Healthcare Disparities, The Blue Cross And Blue Shield Association Supports National Minority Health Month

April 17, 2012

CHICAGO – In recognition that April is National Minority Health Month, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) and Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies nationwide are reinforcing their commitment to encouraging care delivery that is safe, effective, patient centered and equitable.

“Health and healthcare disparities are a result of many factors, including language and cultural barriers, and access to care,” said Allan Korn, MD, BCBSA senior vice president and chief medical officer.  “Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies nationwide are committed to promoting health equity for all patients regardless of race, ethnicity or socio-economic status to ensure that they receive high quality care.”

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2010 National Healthcare Disparities Report, data shows that racial/ethnic minorities and low income populations on average receive poorer healthcare and experience higher rates of avoidable complications compared to non-minorities.  For example:

  • Black patients with diabetes are hospitalized for lower extremity amputations twice as often as white patients.
  • Asians are less likely than whites to have a primary care doctor.
  • Hispanics age 13 and older are diagnosed with AIDS at a rate three times higher than non-Hispanics.
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives are less likely than whites to receive recommended colorectal cancer screenings.

Collectively, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies provide coverage for 100 million individuals and are working to meet the needs of the nation’s increasingly diverse population.  Additionally, the Blue System supports the goals of the Department of Health and Human Services National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, which promotes raising awareness, strengthening leadership, focusing on outcomes, promoting cultural competency, and utilizing data to help reduce healthcare disparities.

Nationally, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are implementing healthcare quality initiatives that help improve the quality of care that patients receive and these programs can also help to address healthcare disparities and promote health equity.  One example is patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs) – healthcare settings which provide patients with coordinated care.  The Commonwealth Fund 2006 Health Care Quality Survey found that when adults had health insurance coverage and participated in a medical home select racial and ethnic disparity in access and quality are reduced or even eliminated.  Today more than 4 million Blue members in 38 states have access to care through PCMHs – making the Blues’ market leaders in this important area of innovation.

Additionally, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are working to address healthcare disparities in their local communities and have the ability to tailor approaches for the communities and diverse populations that they serve.  Examples include:

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Anthem), which has affiliated health plans in 14 states, offers a free web-based course, Guiding Patients to Better HealthCare, to community health workers in an effort to help reduce health disparities and empower patients.  The course gives these important community resources tools to help African-American and Latino patients communicate better with their doctors and more effectively navigate the healthcare system.  The hour-long course, developed by Anthem, is available in both English and Spanish and is aimed at health educators, such as nurses, certified patient educators, patient navigators, patient advocates, community health workers, and promotores del salud.  To access the course, go to www.BridgingHealthCareGaps.com, select your state from the pull-down menu under ‘Providers,’ and then click the ‘Training’ tab.

Florida Blue recently introduced the Diabetes Health Care Disparities Project, which identified African-American members who had gaps in care surrounding diabetes disease management.  Members who had gaps in at least two categories – hemoglobin A1C test, retinal eye exam, hypertension treatment, lipid screening and nephropathy testing – were contacted by the company’s care consultant team, who sought to educate our members on the benefits of such testing, and to encourage increased participation.  The results included higher levels of member participation in all categories.  Future efforts will include adding Hispanic members to the outreach efforts, while also creating more in-depth intervention campaigns for those diabetics who are at higher risk due to poor blood sugar control that could lead to future diabetes-related complications.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) is providing more than $8.5 million over three years in funding to help 12 safety net health center programs in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., implement medical home and care coordination programs for the region’s most vulnerable population, the chronically ill.  The 12 programs will serve low-income, medically underserved communities – addressing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure, as well as a wide spectrum of medical issues including primary adult care and pediatric health, specialized care with HIV-targeted case management, and specialized services for homeless, minority, and uninsured populations.  In all, the funded programs are expected to provide services to as many as 66,000 individuals at more than 20 locations throughout the region.  CareFirst’s Safety Net Health Center Patient-Centered Medical Home Initiative is among the largest of its type ever by a private insurer to support safety net health centers.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation improves the conditions that have an impact on the health of low-income communities across the state.  The Foundation added a specific focus on health equity in 2011 to advance community strategies that improve opportunities for people to reach their full health potential.  It supports the use of health impact assessments, which help community decision-makers identify the potential health benefits and unintended risks of projects and policies, working in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Impact Project.  In May 2012, the Foundation will be releasing an update to its health equity report “The Unequal Distribution of Health in the Twin Cities.”  The report looks at the impact of neighborhood conditions, median area income, education levels, and race on life expectancy.

Highmark Inc. recently became the first Blue Cross and Blue Shield company to receive a Distinction in Multicultural Health Care by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).  This award exemplifies the company’s leadership in working to improve healthcare for all Americans, and specifically recognizes Highmark’s Commercial HMO and Medicare Advantage HMO products offered under the Keystone Health Plan West subsidiary.  Clinical interventions targeting minority members have resulted in improvements in hypertension medication adherence and improved blood pressure control, colorectal cancer screening rates and diabetes care.  Other accomplishments include culturally tailored health outreach to communities throughout Pennsylvania in collaboration with minority media; ongoing cultural competency training of the Highmark workforce; a focus on improving health literacy; and successfully collecting race, ethnicity and language data on the company website.

To learn more about the importance for health equity, visit www.bcbs.com/closingthegap.

More information about the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health’s National Minority Health Month can be found at: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/Actnow/.

About the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 37 independent, community-based and locally-operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide healthcare coverage for nearly 100 million members – one-in-three Americans.  For more information on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and its member companies, please visit bcbs.com. We encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, check out our videos on YouTube, follow us on Twitter and check out The BCBS Blog, for up-to-date information about BCBSA.