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Health Insurers Mobilize to Fight COVID-19 Disparities

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What You Need to Know

  • North Carolina Blue has sent $200 million in spending card aid to its enrollees.
  • AHIP and the Blues hope to get at least 2 million vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Vaccination efforts shows the value of public-private partnerships, says AHIP's CEO.

Health insurers are working to show policymakers in Washington that they are doing their part to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and to make the U.S. health care delivery and health care finance systems better and more fair.

Matt Eyles, the CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), talked repeatedly about efforts to fight health care disparities Tuesday during the first session at AHIP’s National Health Policy Conference.

AHIP presented the three-day 2021 conference via the web. Eyles kicked off the conference by showing attendees AHIP’s new “Care Changes Everything” video.

“This week marks one year from the emergency declaration for COVID-19,” Eyles said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought “extraordinary health iniquities to the surface,” including revelations about how differences in people’s ability to get care can affect their vulnerability to COVID-19, Eyles said.

“This is a seminal moment for social and racial justice,” Eyles said.

Health Insurers as Engines for Change

AHIP is presenting brief interviews with health insurance company CEOs throughout the conference. The first of the interviews featured Dr. Tunde Sotunde, the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Sotunde talked about how his company — like most other AHIP member companies — had enhanced benefits and increased community support efforts in response to the pandemic.

North Carolina used gift cards and wellness cards to send $200 million in support to enrollees last year, to help them buy food, over-the-counter medications and other items.

The company also provided $20 million in financing for 500 independent primary care providers, and worked with other organizations to import equipment for making personal protective equipment for health care providers.

Vaccine Community Connectors Program

AHIP speakers also talked about the Vaccine Community Connectors initiative. AHIP and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association announced the launch of the program last week.

Organizers of the program, which is open to all health insurers, hope to start by getting 2 million older Americans in underserved communities vaccinated against COVID-19. The program then will work to achieve community-level immunity against COVID-19 for everyone, according Matt Eyles, AHIP’s CEO.

The program “demonstrates the critical importance of strong partnerships between the public sector and the private market,” Eyles said. “It’s another example of the public sector and the free marketing coming together in a time of crisis.”

Dr. William Shrank, chief medical and corporate affairs officer at Humana Inc., said the vaccination campaign is part of a response to a pandemic that has shined a bright light on many issues related to health care disparities.

“The foundation of this effort is that delivering the vaccine to the population is, arguably, the most important population health effort that we will be involved in in our lifetimes,” Shrank said.

Dr. Tunde Sotunde (Photo: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina)