Declarations are not enough.  Health care equity needs action, health care leaders say - MedCity News

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has entered into value-based payment contracts focused on improving health care equity with four health care organizations, the payer announced Thursday.

The contracts are with Steward Health Care Network, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Mass General Brigham and Boston Accountable Care Organization, which is part of Boston Medical Center. Together, these organizations serve more than 550,000 BCBS Massachusetts members. Each organization will work on selected health equity measures.

We believe BCBS Massachusetts is the first health plan in the country to offer this type of program, said Dr. Mark Friedberg, senior vice president of underwriter performance measurement and improvement.

“Our goal is to eliminate inequities in the care our members receive and help create a more equitable and affordable health care system,” Friedberg wrote in an email. “We want to engage as many doctors and hospitals as possible in capital improvement.”

All four organizations will initially focus on reducing disparities in controlling high blood pressure. Steward Health Care Network and Boston Accountable Care Organization will also focus on colorectal cancer screenings, and Beth Israel Lahey will address comprehensive diabetes care. Those measures were chosen because they had “sufficient equity gaps” among large populations of different races and ethnicities, Friedberg said. Additional health equity measures will be added as the program develops.

“We can incentivize and enable improvements by tying payments to equity measures … Each provider organization will receive greater payments as disparities among the patients they serve are reduced,” Friedberg said.

To track the success of BCBS Massachusetts’ health equity efforts, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Center for Healthcare Organization and Innovation Research will independent external evaluation to the insurer. In August, the Commonwealth Fund awarded the research organization a grant of more than $397,000 to explore BCBS Massachusetts’ work on health equity.

In 2021, BCBS Massachusetts began collecting data on racial disparities in health care among its members and clinical partners. That data showed areas of significant disparities that led to the creation of these value-based contracts, Friedman said.

While the payer is initially starting with these four healthcare organizations, it hopes to enter into value-based healthcare equity contracts with others in the future.

“While Steward Health Care Network, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Boston Accountable Care Organization and Mass General Brigham are among the first to participate in these payment contracts, we are ready and eager to add additional healthcare organizations,” Friedman said.

Photo: PeterPencil, Getty Images

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