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Investing in Health Equity: The Impact of Mobilizing and Policy by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Henry Ford Health System, and PwC

Minorities have suffered more during the COVID-19 pandemic than white Americans, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ 2020 Health Equity report.
Early in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, 31% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of COVID-19 deaths were among Black Michigan residents, who make up 14% of the state’s population. By December 2020, 26% of deaths were of Black Michiganders. Their mortality rate was 221 per 100,000 people, almost double that of white Michiganders, whose mortality rate was 112 per 100,000.

“These pandemic era health disparities are not a surprise given our country’s longstanding health disparities due to inequities,” Claudia Douglass, the principal of Health Services Providers for PwC, said. “This is a justice issue, [but] it’s not just a justice issue. It’s a business issue.”

Douglass moderated Investing in Health Equity during the 2021 Mackinac Policy Conference on Tuesday, Sept. 21. The panel consisted of Carladenise Edwards, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at Henry Ford Health System; Bridget Hurd, vice president of inclusion and diversity at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM); and Trine Tsouderos, director of the Health Leadership Institute at PwC.

Edwards, Hurd, and Tsouderos agreed with Douglass that the impact of the pandemic was not a surprise and not unique to the COVID-19 experience.

“When the information started coming in about the disparities we were seeing about the morbidity and mortality due to COVID, we had to reflect on that. This is not new. These disparities that we’ve seen among people of color, African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic, Latino, even among people of disability and the LGBTQ+ community — what COVID did was shine a light on the disparity and put into place an urgency to now address that,” Hurd said.

BCBSM addressed the disparity quickly by looking at the data and the stories it told and taking the time to understand the stories of real people to understand their actual needs. From there, BCBS established a COVID-19 workflow that focused on addressing healthcare disparities, such as waiving the cost of healthcare treatment and working with community healthcare institutions and partners to get mobile testing clinics.

Henry Ford also mobilized and addressed the disparity. It worked with city and state officials to develop solutions, from getting mobile units to hard-to-reach communities to addressing work and supply shortages.

“We mobilized around a common enemy, and that was COVID,” Edwards said. “This is a policy conference, and people want to know what we can do to make change. One thing is to take the silver linings and the lessons we learned, apply them, and make them sticky, or standard, work. That’s coming together to solve a complex problem and doing it fast…Henry Ford was a leader in that.”

Hurd cautioned about rushing into making decisions, though, especially when developing policies. It’s essential to make sure people’s experiences that the policies aim to help are being addressed.

“If you take the enormous flood of policy that comes out daily of CMS and DFDA and you start putting a lens on the policies, you come out with a lot of improvements that can be made on a grand scale that can really move the needle,” Tsouderos said.

Tsouderos cited a recent policy that added vaccines to retail pharmacies as an example. The intent of the policy was to increase accessibility, but most retail pharmacies are located in suburban areas around white communities, so it was not as effective as intended.

“When thinking about policy and implementing new policy, is taking the opportunity to make sure we’re not just reflecting the privilege of those of us in society, that we’re not just using our own frame of reference to develop policy, but we’re taking the opportunity to consider everyone. That, at the start of the process, we’re asking those questions that will help us understand how the working class will be affected or benefit from this policy,” Hurd said.

This session was sponsored by PwC.