Jan 1, 2023

A key step toward health equity


Matthew Collins, M.D., M.B.A. is BCBSRI’s executive vice president and chief medical officer, with comprehensive oversight for our medical management, care management, utilization management, and behavioral health management areas. Matt’s goals are ensuring our members get the right care at the right time in the right setting, while leading our efforts to control the increase of total medical expenses. He also brings a unique perspective to his role with a background as a family physician.

It’s hard to believe it’s already 2023, but here we are somehow. Back in August 2020 (that sounds so long ago now, doesn’t it?) I wrote about disparities in healthcare and that there was much work to be done in that area. I’m thrilled to report some real progress as we continue to take positive steps toward health equity.

Recently, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (BCBSRI) changed our company’s vision slightly as part of our strategic planning process. It now reads: “Improve health and well-being by leading access to high quality, affordable, and equitable care.” The key change was the last part, about equitable care. While we have worked to create access to equitable care for many years, we felt it was important to deliberately call out equity in our vision. This adjustment is reflective of our renewed focus on our work to ensure that ALL of our members have access to quality and affordable care.

We’ve recently unveiled a new tool to help inform these critical efforts – the Health Equity Report. This extensive resource includes and is based on data we’ve gathered from our adult members in Rhode Island. The report is broken down into five main sections, with several HEDIS® measures in each, as follows:

  • Chronic conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.)
  • Mental health (medication management, hospitalization follow-up)
  • Other testing and treatment (bronchitis, back pain, etc.)
  • Prevention (potentially harmful drug-disease interactions, immunizations, etc.)
  • Women’s health (breast cancer, cervical cancer, and chlamydia screenings)

Each of the measures in the report is analyzed and scored across four racial and ethnic groups: Asian, Black, Hispanic, and white members. The measures reported are widely used by health plans and clinicians to monitor healthcare quality. All reported data in this first version of the report are from 2021.

Shining a light on inequities

The data shows and shines a light on several racial and ethnic inequities across many areas of patient care. We will use this information – especially as we continue to learn more and collect more data – to make meaningful changes aimed at reducing these inequities. We’ll do this by developing programs that better support members’ health and well-being needs so that ALL Rhode Islanders can experience equitable care.

As a first step, in Q1 BCBSRI will begin collecting voluntary, confidential self-reported member data (as opposed to relying on third-party sources) to more accurately identify healthcare gaps and disparities, which will create more opportunities to create more equitable healthcare. Data collected going forward will include religion, ethnicity, and language (REL), as well as sexual orientation and gender identification (SOGI). This data will be collected through our member portal as well as through customer service.

We’re also committed to working closely with you, our valued provider partners, to create the change necessary to ensure equitable care. The collected data illuminates inequities and disparities that are addressable working with you. These data point to deeper issues such as underlying chronic conditions and bias within the healthcare system.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy this month, along with the amazing work he championed so long ago in the fight for equality, it’s a fitting time to enhance our efforts around healthcare equity. Together, we can make the changes necessary to begin to address the issues that still exist, and we’re looking forward to working with you to do that.

Thank you!

This month we recognize National Blood Donor Month, National Eye Care Month, and National Pharmacist Day (January 12). As always, thank you for your partnership and all you do to help our members stay safe and healthy. On behalf of all of us at BCBSRI, we wish you a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!