Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota addresses systemic challenges of racial and health equity and the social determinants of health and works toward a circular economy through community partnership and advocacy. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) understands that embracing the principles of the circular economy is key to creating a healthcare system that works for everyone. They also understand that tackling the systemic challenges that create disparities and keep people from achieving their full health potential is just as important as assisting members when they interact with the health care system. This case study explores how the organization has employed a policy advocacy approach with state and federal government officials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.
To advance solutions focused on racial and health equity, the social determinants of health, and circularity, Blue Cross centers systems change, partnership and advocacy. At all levels of the organization, there is an understanding that these complex issues require long-term commitments from a diverse set of stakeholders, including partners in the state and federal government. Blue Cross uses its voice as a leader in the health care industry by encouraging policymakers to approach community health holistically and create structural change to achieve equitable health outcomes.
Blue Cross’ Social Impact strategy, with focuses on racial and health equity and the social determinants of health, guides their initiatives to help sustain and improve the health of Minnesota communities, while also working to lower health care costs and improve the company’s competitiveness. In support of these goals, Blue Cross takes an organizational approach of partnering with community leadership and acknowledging that solutions for addressing health inequities lie within communities. Each community leverages its existing power and brings community voices to the conversation. This approach has guided the formation of the Blue Cross Giving Gardens, the way the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation distributes funds, and Blue Cross’ role as a catalyst and convener in coalition leadership. [Read more about Blue Cross’ involvement in the Minnesota Healthy Kids Coalition, Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, and the Minnesota Health Literacy Partnership].
Blue Cross also addresses social determinants of health by communicating with policymakers in state and federal government about policy solutions to systemic barriers to a healthy society for all. Blue Cross’ history of success in using policy advocacy is demonstrated by their leadership in raising the sale age of commercial tobacco from age 18 to 21 through “Tobacco 21.” Their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd demonstrate how they continue to model leadership through advocacy.
Response to COVID-19
In April 2020, Blue Cross President and CEO, Dr. Craig Samitt, sent a letter to the Minnesota Congressional delegation. In this correspondence, Dr. Samitt highlighted the need for government action and outlined Blue Cross’ immediate response:
- Covering all costs associated with COVID testing and treatment and expanding tele-health services to increase access to health care providers.
- Mobilizing volunteers to create hand-sewn masks for health care workers and nonprofits across the state.
- Investing $7.5 million (as of November, 2020) to charitable community organizations addressing both immediate and underlying needs associated with racial and health equity and social determinants of health. (Please visit Blue Cross’ COVID-19 website for updates and to read more about their response).
Dr. Samitt continued by outlining the aspects of the response that must be addressed by government:
- Helping employers maintain insurance coverage.
- Developing a national testing strategy.
- Enhancing funding support for uninsured Americans.
At this early stage of the pandemic, he highlighted the emerging patterns indicating the virus’ outsized effect on BIPOC communities. “As we continue to learn more about the virus, Blue Cross is committed to understanding and addressing the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on communities of color and indigenous communities,” Dr. Samitt wrote. “We remain committed to delivering value to all our members and taking steps to ensure that all individuals are able to achieve their optimal health regardless of the color of their skin or their place of residence.”
Blue Cross used the letter as a tool to engage policymakers in the organization’s response and demonstrate how its health equity values intersect with policy responses to the pandemic. The letter served to reinforce the value of advocating for enabling context as a systemic lever for change.
Social Determinants of Health
Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. A social determinants of health framework acknowledges that 80% of influences on human health are outside of the health care system. The framework also recognizes that disparities in wealth and access to opportunity are intimately connected to human health. Addressing social determinants of health will ultimately lower health care costs and makes organizations like Blue Cross more effective in their work to create healthy communities.
About Blue Cross
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is a non-profit health insurance company, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Association. For more than 85 years, it has been providing health plans and unique health programs to Minnesota citizens and businesses.
Through its innovative leadership and community involvement, it has incorporated environmental stewardship and sustainability into its health programs and business practices. With its strong commitment to the environment and healthy lives, Blue Cross strives to build and provide equitable health plans and programs for vulnerable communities to reduce long-term health costs and increase healthy lifestyles.
The company continues to develop and pitch new programs and initiatives to leadership, such as its Environment Action Team, a group of associates working across departments to advance the company’s sustainability goals.