Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Announce National Health Equity Strategy to Confront the Nation’s Crisis in Racial Health Disparities

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As part of its ongoing mission to improve the health of America, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association announced its National Health Equity Strategy to reduce racial disparities.

Berlin, Vermont– Today, as part of its ongoing mission to improve the health of America, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced its National Health Equity Strategy to confront the nation’s crisis in racial health disparities. This strategy intends to change the trajectory of health disparities and re-imagine a more equitable healthcare system. BCBSA has convened a national advisory panel of doctors, public health experts and community leaders to provide guidance. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont calls on the Vermont Legislature to stand with us in this effort by expanding Dr. Dynasaur to undocumented pregnant women and children by passing H.430 and making it effective immediately upon passage.

“Your health shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin or the neighborhood you live in,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “The crisis in racial disparities in our country’s health care is unconscionable and unacceptable. While BCBS companies have made great strides in addressing racial health disparities in our local communities, there is so much more to be done.” 

“Starting here and starting now, we can begin to put an end to the racial disparities in health care,” continued Keck. “Our deep roots in the local communities we serve, combined with the scale and scope of our national reach, enable all of us at Blue Cross Blue Shield companies to drive this new strategy and bring real change. But we cannot do it alone. It is a moment in time when we as a nation must come together to build a new model of equitable health care.”  

“We have a unique opportunity to make positive change and a commitment to achieving a more equitable healthcare system,” said Don George, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont. “Taking this modest step to ensure that the most vulnerable pregnant women in Vermont have access to critical prenatal health care is a humanitarian issue that we simply cannot continue to ignore.” 

BCBSA’s National Health Equity Strategy is comprehensive and relies on close collaboration with providers and local community organizations. This collaboration was essential in recent months as BCBS companies worked with local leaders to support vulnerable communities with COVID-19 vaccine access. The strategy includes collecting data to measure disparities, scaling effective programs, working with providers to improve outcomes and address unconscious bias, leaning into partnerships at the community level, and influencing policy decisions at the state and federal levels. The multi-year strategy will focus on four conditions that disproportionately affect communities of color: maternal health, behavioral health, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. BCBSA will first focus on maternal health, then behavioral health in 2021.

Setting a Goal to Address Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

BCBSA has set a public goal to reduce racial disparities in maternal health by 50% in five years.

“BCBS companies are fully committed to reach this goal,” said Keck. “We will continue to collaborate with our local partners and providers to continually improve our programs and build momentum, and we will seek out new ideas and proven initiatives that accelerate health equity reform.”

Metrics will include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Severe Maternal Morbidity measures. BCBSA will report results annually. Use of nationally consistent measures will evolve over time based on research, industry development, and in-market learnings.

To help confront racial health disparities within Vermont, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont continues to develop and support localized solutions that help improve healthcare for all – including:

  • Supporting new and expectant mothers with the Better Beginnings program. Today, it is one of the most comprehensive maternal care management programs in the country, with a focus on maternal and child health, social connection and culturally informed care.
  • Our members benefit from wraparound support both before and after delivery, including a comprehensive health risk assessment that includes mental and behavioral health factors, medical considerations, social connection, and language, cultural and religious considerations.
  • Expectant mothers are paired with a nurse case manager who can support their unique needs through pregnancy and beyond.
  • Postpartum, new mothers are screened for depression and are encouraged to access lactation consultants to support mothers through the challenges they may experience with nursing.

“Though 70 percent of our members who are expecting a baby are enrolled in the Better Beginnings program, we have more work to do. The data for people of color is shocking. For Black mothers specifically, maternal mortality is three times higher than that of white mothers, and the prevalence of delivery complications is 46 percent higher. The data needs to be a call to action for all of us in health care,” said Dr. Josh Plavin, a primary care Internal Medicine & Pediatrics physician and Chief Medical Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont.      

A Panel of Experts Focused on Closing America’s Gap in Health Equity

“The more people we bring to the table, the more we can create lasting change,” said Keck about the nine handpicked members of the BCBSA National Advisory Panel on Health Equity. “I’m excited we have brought together such experienced, highly regarded leaders in health equity and the community, and I look forward to their guidance as we move forward.”

Members include: Tracey D. Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association®; Marshall Chin, MD, MPH, Richard Parrillo, Family Professor of Healthcare Ethics at the University of Chicago; Gilbert Darrington, CEO of Health Services, Incorporated; Adaeze Enekwechi, PhD, MPP, Research Associate Professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University; Maria S. Gomez, RN, MPH, President and CEO of Mary’s Center; Rachel R. Hardeman, PhD, MPH, Tenured Associate Professor in the Division of Health Policy & Management at the University of Minnesota; Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO of March of Dimes; Richard Taylor, CEO of ImbuTec; and Kevin Washington, President and CEO of YMCA of the USA.

The National Health Equity Strategy is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Pledge to Make Meaningful Change. The Pledge speaks to BCBS companies’ broad commitment to addressing racial disparity in health and all its forms.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is Vermont’s only local, not-for-profit health plan. For over 70 years, the company has been enhancing the health and well-being of the Vermonters by offering innovative plans to individuals, seniors and businesses. Our employees are dedicated to developing new ways to support high quality care and programs and events that promote wellness. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.