Nov 1, 2023

Advancing equity through colorectal cancer screening

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is observed every March. But awareness of this disease – which is the third most common cancer, and third most common cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. – is something Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) has made a priority all year long, since it’s one of the few cancers with a reliable detection method even in its earliest stages.

Although improvements in colorectal cancer (CRC) detection and screening have led to lowered overall incidence of the disease, communities of color have not experienced the same declines. Consider these facts:

  • Nationally – as well as for BCBSRI members – screening rates are lower for the Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations than the white population.
  • From 2012 to 2016, CRC incidence rates among Black Americans were approximately 20% higher than those for white Americans.​
  • Disease stage at detection is higher among Black and Hispanic populations.​
  • From 2013 to 2017, CRC death rates for Black Americans were nearly 40% higher than for white Americans.​

Considering this very inequitable picture, BCBSRI recently announced a new initiative to help advance health equity around CRC screenings. We’ve partnered with the Lifespan Community Health Institute (LCHI) to provide CRC screening outreach and navigation assistance to BCBSRI members who are experiencing gaps in getting this critical screening.

This partnership will help to reduce measured disparities in CRC screening by race and ethnicity among BCBSRI members, as well as help increase the overall screening rate for all racial and ethnic groups to 80% by 2026. We’ve prioritized people of color, low-income, disabled, and/or our dual-special needs plan (D-SNP) members for this effort.

Specifically, and from claims data, we’re identifying members ages 45-75 who have gaps in CRC screening (no colonoscopy for 10+ years or no home test for 1-3+ years), and who are not part of a BCBSRI Accountable Care Organization. Members who meet these criteria have received letters from BCBSRI letting them know that they may receive a phone call from a community health worker at LCHI about scheduling a colonoscopy.

Additional services and resources they might receive from LCHI include getting information about CRC screening methods, ordering home testing kits, answering questions about the screening process, and most importantly, scheduling a colonoscopy appointment. They may also receive help removing barriers to access such as transportation and childcare and will receive communication about test results and assistance with any necessary follow-ups.

See our latest Health Equity Report for more detailed information on our efforts around reducing CRC care gaps, as well as other areas where we’re focused on improving equity and access. On that note, we’re also now working to equip our network providers who participate in our PCP Quality Incentive Program (PQIP) with additional health equity data in their “gaps in care” reporting. This new data indicates how members of your panel of different races and ethnicities are performing relative to various HEDIS® measures. We’re now providing it to help you ensure your patients are receiving equitable care.

As always, thank you for your partnership and all you do to help our members stay safe and healthy.