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Blue Cross Strengthens Efforts to Address Health Care Disparities  

Building on its efforts to address disparities in health care, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has started an Office of Health and Health Care Disparities.  

This sharpened focus comes at a critical time, as removing barriers to health care could not be more important than in today’s COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has laid bare the longstanding racial and economic disparities in health care access, delivery and outcomesFor example, early in the pandemic, African Americans/Blacks accounted for 41% of the deaths in Michigan from COVID-19 – yet African Americans/Blacks make up 13.6% of the state’s population.   

“This new office strengthens our commitment to making concerted efforts to understand the disparities among our members and the community, identify systemic and community efforts to address disparities and work in partnership with others in the community,” said Bridget Hurd, vice president of Inclusion and Diversity at BCBSM and leader of the Office of Health and Health Care Disparities. “Addressing disparities is one way that we can improve the wellness and well-being of our members and community residents. 

The office will serve as a hub to connect initiatives and projects underway at Blue Cross.  

Disparities in health and health care are rooted in racial, economic and geographic factors. There are profound racial and ethnic differences in health outcomes. Additionally, living in poverty makes it difficult for many to afford health care and people who live in rural communities have less access to care.  

“Racial and economic disparities affect health outcomes. When you don’t feel the health care system understands your needs, you don’t necessarily make it a priority to go see a doctor,” said Dr. James Grant, senior vice president and chief medical officer at BCBSM. “The Office of Health and Health Care Disparities is a starting point to address these concerns by educating providers and reaching out to our members who are part of traditionally higher-risk communities.” 

Addressing health and health care disparities for our members is central to our mission at Blue Cross. In 2016, we started a Health Disparities Action Team to define our focus on both issues, to collect and analyze data to learn more about disparities among our members and to identify opportunities to address them. This new office builds upon that work.   

A critical component of the continued Blue Cross efforts this new office will support is an unconscious bias education program for providers. This program launched in September 2020 with Blue Cross’ Physician Group Incentive Program.  

Unconscious bias – also known as implicit bias – is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group that is based on stereotypes or generalizations. In health care, it can mean use of patronizing language by providers and discrimination based on a patient’s past experiences or race – which then affects the patient’s perception of providers and care. 

Helping providers understand cultural competency – the ability to adapt their interactions based on an individual’s cultural or other needs – is also an important function of this new office.  

The office engages team members across the Blue Cross enterprise including Inclusion and Diversity, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Care Management, Value Partnerships, Data Analytics, Provider Relations, Community Responsibility and Social Mission.  

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