Long-standing social structures of racism and discrimination have systematically harmed the health and well-being of generations of Americans simply due to their race. As we begin to move forward, health organizations, like Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), are facing the nation’s crisis in racial health disparities head on.
“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 Blue Cross Blue Shield companies (BCBS) have made great strides in addressing racial health disparities in our local communities, there is so much more to be done.” And with their new National Health Equity Strategy, they are taking the first steps.
Building A New Model
This multi-year effort to confront racial disparities begins with maternal health and will expand to include behavioral health, cardiovascular health, and diabetes. To ensure its success, 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.
“Starting here and starting now, we can begin to put an end to the racial disparities in health care. Our deep roots in the local communities we serve, combined with the scale and scope of our national reach, enable all of us to drive this new strategy and bring real change,” says Kim. “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.”
Crisis Management to Create Change
There is a major crisis that we must confront, and it must be dealt with first. Women of color, specifically Black and Indigenous women, are facing 3x higher rates of maternal mortality and 2x higher rates of maternal morbidity compared to their white counterparts, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many BCBS companies are already working toward preventing these dangerous outcomes.
Identifying women at risk and providing one-on-one coaching, BCBS companies are helping them manage their chronic conditions during pregnancy. This includes nutrition counseling and “prescriptions” for healthy food delivery while also addressing underlying social determinants that have an impact on health. They are also providing doula support to mothers throughout their pre- and postnatal journeys and making implicit bias training available to healthcare workers.
Closing the Gap in Health Equity
BCBSA has convened a national advisory panel of doctors, public health experts and community leaders to guide this work 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 panel. “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.”
Panel member and President and CEO of March of Dimes, Stacey D. Stewart believes solutions to this crisis are equally as complex and require collaboration and partnerships like this one to make a real impact. “The maternal health disparities crisis is not only impacted by medical factors, it can be traced back to systemic challenges with health care systems, social determinants of health, like access to care and poverty, and deeply entrenched, structural racism that is fueling a health equity gap,” she says.
It is only by addressing systematic issues that we can create systematic change. But BCBSA is hopeful that, together, we can affect meaningful, measurable progress toward equitable healthcare.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national association of independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans.