Health Insurance Providers Help Vaccinate More Than 2 Million Seniors Against COVID-19 in Underserved Communities

Vaccine Community Connectors campaign exceeds goal in under 100 days; insurance providers continue their commitment to improve health equity and create better health outcomes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Health insurance providers helped vaccinate more than 2 million seniors against COVID-19 in under 100 days as a result of the Vaccine Community Connectors (VCC) program. The VCC leveraged data on social determinants of health to improve equity and break down barriers to vaccine access for Americans in the most at-risk communities. More than 50 health insurance providers are now participating in this public-private partnership, launched by AHIP and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). Lessons learned will help health insurance providers connect more effectively with communities to tackle other pressing health challenges.

The VCC program was initiated to encourage the vaccination of people over the age of 65 in socially vulnerable communities. As organizations like the Association for Community Affiliated Plans have joined the VCC program, these efforts have extended to encompass Medicaid enrollees and other underserved populations. Health insurance providers continue to invest to encourage every eligible American to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities from this deadly virus. 

“Throughout the pandemic, racial and geographic gaps in our nation’s health care system have shown disproportionate harm to many Black, Hispanic, rural and other underserved communities,” said Tonya Adams, national spokesperson for the VCC program and senior vice president of customer experience and operations at Regence BlueCross BlueShield. “Our collaborative effort reached and vaccinated more than 2 million seniors – but we’re not stopping there. In addition to continuing COVID-19 vaccinations, health insurance providers will continue to break down long-standing barriers to access for other vaccines, as well as to help people in these communities manage their chronic diseases.”

Relying on customer information and the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), health insurance providers worked with the White House; state leaders; and many other stakeholders, such as community health centers and pharmacies, to identify and communicate with the individuals they serve who live in the 25% most at-risk communities in America. By scaling personalized solutions, health insurance providers helped break down barriers to vaccine access by covering vaccines free of charge to individuals, answering questions about vaccine effectiveness and cost, providing transportation to clinics, facilitating in-home vaccinations, conducting targeted education, and more. 

Public-Private Partnerships a Key for Success
Public-private partnerships in several states have been a key driver of success. For example, in Illinois, efforts were greatly assisted through a partnership between health insurance providers and the state which expanded access to the state’s immunization information system. By providing health insurance providers with queryable, interoperable access to this data, the state empowered them to direct resources to people who would be most helped by education, outreach, and support, including initiating vaccination and reminders to receive a second dose. When vaccines were in short supply, the VCC partnered with the state to schedule vaccination appointments for their members. 

Health insurance providers have also been working with the Administration to vaccinate as many people as possible through the We Can Do It/Made to Save campaign, which aims to vaccinate at least 70% of American adults. 

“The COVID-19 vaccines are saving lives and are our best tool for stopping this pandemic so all of us can enjoy the moments we’ve missed over the past year. That’s why health insurance providers have been working with federal, state and local leaders to connect Americans with vaccines, especially in hard-hit and often hard-to-reach communities as quickly and equitably as possible.” said Matt Eyles, AHIP president and CEO. “Along the way, we’ve also gained real insight into how we continue this work to overcome other pressing health challenges. While we can’t fix health inequities overnight, we must learn the lessons this pandemic has taught us to deliver more focused, impactful policies that improve health equity.”

Ongoing Work to Improve Health Equity
The VCC program is ongoing, as health insurance providers continue work to achieve community immunity from COVID-19 across the country.

“The most vulnerable people in our country have suffered disproportionately from the COVID-19 crisis, which is why we have been working side-by-side with industry partners to help millions of vulnerable Americans get vaccinated against the virus,” said Kim Keck, BCBSA president and CEO. “Addressing health disparities does not end with the COVID-19 vaccine though. We are committed to using our unique resources – our people, our data, and our local community roots – to create a long-lasting, equitable health care system that works better for every single person.”   

The pandemic made clear gaps in data that make it difficult to find people who need the most help in receiving more equitable health care. Health insurance providers will continue to work together with federal and state leaders, as well as other stakeholders, to fill data gaps to identify and support people most in need of more equitable care, while respecting Americans’ privacy and earning their trust. 

“The pandemic has brought the pervasive inequities that are baked into our health care system into stark relief,” said Margaret A. Murray, CEO of the Association for Community Affiliated Plans. “Health plans are taking on this challenge from several angles: intensive education campaigns, partnerships with community and faith leaders, direct financial incentives, transportation and more to close the gap in vaccination rates.” 

AHIP will continue to convene its Health Equity Measures for Value-based Care Workgroup, launched in 2020 to identify measures to advance equity in care delivery and to work with interested stakeholders to make additional measures of equity a part of our value-based care delivery system. 

Health insurance providers also support closing the digital divide to assure that all Americans can access telehealth and other virtual care technologies, particularly in rural communities, communities with limited provider access, and in places that lack transportation. 

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 35 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.