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

Goal to Reduce Racial Disparities in Maternal Health by 50 percent in Five Years

Philadelphia, PA — April 20 — Today, as part of its ongoing mission to improve the health of America, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced a National Health Equity Strategy to confront the nation’s crisis in racial health disparities. This strategy, supported by Independence Blue Cross (Independence), intends to change the trajectory of heath disparities and re-imagine a more equitable health care system. BCBSA has convened a national advisory panel of doctors, public health experts and community leaders to provide guidance.

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

“Independence has a long history of serving our community’s most vulnerable citizens by providing increased access to care and addressing serious health issues that affect these populations in greater numbers,” said Gregory E. Deavens, Independence president and CEO. “We stand united with BCBSA in the effort to raise the bar even higher and escalate our efforts to create communities where no one is left out and people can live their healthiest life, regardless of their zip code.”

“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.”

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.

Setting a Goal to Address Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

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

“A healthy pregnancy leads to a healthy mother and baby,” said Dr. Richard L. Snyder, EVP, Facilitated Health Networks, and Independence Chief Medical Officer. “By addressing the issues that prevent women from getting the care they need, when they need it, we can begin to make serious headway on preventing serious maternal morbidity, pre-term births and lowering infant mortality.”

To help confront racial health disparities in southeastern Pennsylvania, Independence continues to develop and support localized solutions that help improve maternal health, including working with Project HOME and AmeriHealth Caritas to address significant health disparities experienced in North Philadelphia through the Keystone Connection to Wellness initiative, announced in January 2020. Through this initiative, expectant mothers in North Philadelphia are participating in Project Home’s Centering Pregnancy program – a national, evidence-based maternal health model.

“Independence has a long history of nourishing our Project HOME community and we’re grateful for its vision and passion for our friends and neighbors here in North Philadelphia,” said Project HOME President and Executive Director Sister Mary Scullion. “We’re excited to see the company take a leadership role in addressing health equity and look forward to our continued collaboration in the fight to break the cycle of homelessness, poverty, racism, and health disparities in Philadelphia.”

Other Independence initiatives include:

  • Baby Blueprints: Using predictive modeling in the Independence Blue Cross maternal care program to better understand how social determinants of health (SDOH) impact high-risk maternity patients. This work includes behavioral health screenings and social need assessments for factors including transportation, food security and financial wellbeing.
  • COVID-19 lockdown impact study on pre-term birth outcomes: Support, through the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, of a novel study on the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on pre-term birth outcomes. Led by Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Nemours Children’s Hospital, the first study of its kind in the U.S., will examine both spontaneous and medically indicated preterm births as well as stillbirth rates—especially among communities of color, which see disproportionate rates of preterm births.
  • Bright Start Maternity Program: Independence’s medical assistance managed care subsidiary, Keystone First, operates this maternal health program that is dedicated to ensuring members receive early and ongoing prenatal care to achieve healthy outcomes:
    • Nurse care managers to facilitate access to specialists, screenings and support;
    • Maternity navigators, including SDOH assessments and referrals;
    • A cell phone program for moderate-to high-risk pregnant women;
    • Community partnerships to support home visiting programs from pregnancy through age 6;
    • A behavioral health/substance abuse disorder integrated care program; and
    • Nutrition programs and services.

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 BCBSA National Advisory Panel on Health Equity, which include Tracey D. Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association® and Kevin Washington, President and CEO of YMCA of the USA among others. “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.”

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.

Media Contact: 
Ruth Stoolman
215-667-9657 (cell)