Addressing Racial Health Disparities
COVID-19 has and continues to disproportionately impact communities of color, as evidenced by case numbers, deaths, and social consequences. The pandemic pushes us to recognize inequities that have existed for generations, so much so that, last year, AMCP made it a strategic priority.
To AMCP leaders and members, these goals are more than just nice words. We are committed to examining tough challenges and leading difficult conversations. For example, AMCP hosted a partnership forum on racial health disparities in medication use. Participants, agreeing that we must acknowledge that racism impacts health care, concluded that:
- We need to address gaps in data.
- We need to take a hard look at how patients navigate the system.
- We need to bring diverse patient voices into the entire health care process.
Good work is being done across our community to address racial disparities. Take, for example, SCAN Health Plan. Last year, the company worked successfully to reduce vaccine disparities among Black, Latino, and low-income members. SCAN Health Plan credits its achievement to five key actions:
- Building trust through culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach.
- Surveying Black and Latino caregivers and members to learn more about their views on vaccines.
- Launching an in-home vaccination program for members that are homebound.
- Launching a dedicated COVID-19 vaccine call line.
- Creating a COVID-19 dashboard to track member vaccination.
“The numbers indicate that through our efforts, we have been able to break historic patterns and mitigate some of the pandemic’s devastating impact on underserved populations in order to achieve broad population immunity,” says Sharon Jhawar, SCAN Health Plan’s chief pharmacy officer and a long-time AMCP member.
Critical Information Sharing
Another example comes from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSM), which recently launched a collaborative effort between the health plan and the medical community to eliminate health inequities.
In a November 2021 STAT article, BCBSM CEO Andrew Dreyfus and Sandhya Rao, the plan’s chief medical officer and senior vice president, outline their approaches for the collaboration so far:
- Start fixing health inequity with data collection: Measure disparities locally, but don’t let gaps in data slow progress.
- Share the data: BCBSM shared reports with large health systems in its coverage area and will make reports available to employers – making equitable health care “a business as well as a moral imperative.”
- Let findings spur improvements: BCBSM made its data about inequities publicly available and made equity of care a strategic priority.
- Collaborate with the medical community: Together with its partners, BCBSM is building on the Alternative Quality Contract to determine how best to measure and eliminate inequities in both access and care. BCBSM also has pledged to create “new contracts that reward clinicians for providing care that is equal in quality for people of all races and ethnicities.”
Dreyfus and Rao write, “Eliminating disparities in health care helps create healthier, more productive, and more resilient communities and workplaces, and ensures that health plans meet their commitment to provide high-quality coverage for all of their members.”
These are just a few examples of powerful initiatives to address racial inequities in health care. We must continue and advance this cause to improve health care for all patients. I know the AMCP community is up to this challenge.