2021 Hero Health Equity Announcement Racial Health Disparities

Working to prevent racial disparities in health care

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared racism as a “serious public health threat.” For generations, people of color have experienced the U.S. health system differently than white people. Institutional bias and systematic racism have led to stark and worsening disparities and inequities.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies, health insurers to one in three Americans, have launched a new multi-year health equity strategy to change the trajectory of health disparities and re-imagine a more equitable health care system. The National Health Equity Strategy is a comprehensive series of initiatives that rely on close collaboration with health care providers, community leaders and advocates.  The new strategy will scale programs from local BCBS companies proven to improve equity, creating standardized, national measures.

“Our deep roots in the local communities we serve, combined with the scale and scope of our national reach, enable all of us at the Blue Cross Blue Shield companies to get behind this new strategy and bring real change,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. “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.” 

A series of initiatives to address racial inequities

Starting with maternal health inequities, the National Health Equity Strategy is a multi-year initiative that will focus on a number of health conditions that disproportionately impact communities of color including behavioral health, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. It will rely on data collection to measure disparities, working directly with health care providers to address unconscious bias and scale effective programs to improve how care is given to people of color. Partnerships at the community level will be leveraged, as well as working with policymakers to influence decisions at the state and federal level.

A commitment to Black women

Each year in the U.S., nearly 4 million women give birth, most without any problems, and research suggests nearly 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable. But for women of color, the likelihood of dying from pregnancy related complications is two to three times that of white women, and delivery complications are 46 percent higher among Black women. Preeclampsia and eclampsia, two leading causes of maternal death, are 60 percent more common in Black women. Couple these glaring statistics with underlying racism and implicit bias faced by many women of color, and the picture is terrifying.

In an effort to change the course for Black women and their babies, and as part of the National Health Equity Strategy, BCBS companies nationwide are committing to reducing maternal health disparities by 50 percent over the next five years. While development of nationally consistent measures will evolve over time, results will be reported annually and will include metrics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Severe Maternal Morbidity measures and will be based on research and in-market learnings.

BCBS companies across the country currently have numerous programs and initiatives aimed at improving pregnancy and birth outcomes, the new strategy will take locally developed programs and scale them to the national level.

Engaging partners and outside experts

Racial health disparities have plagued the health system for generations and will not be solved through a siloed approach.  BCBS companies have convened a nine-member national advisory panel of doctors, public health experts and community leaders to provide counsel. BCBS companies have always relied on partnerships—from church leaders, neighborhood organizations and even local businesses—to meet the health and wellness needs of their communities, and those relationships will be a key component in reducing disparities.

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.

Additional Resources:

  • Read our press release announcing our multi-year committment.
  • Get more information on the BCBSA Health Equity Strategy. 
  • See how BCBS companies are addressing racial health disparities.
  • Read the BCBSA Issue Brief on addressing health disparities and inequities in communities of color.
  • See how Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are improving maternal health.
  • Read our letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in support of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.
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