Corporate Leadership on Solving Social Problems: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota
Disparities in health outcomes among demographic groups, often along racial and ethnic lines, can’t be resolved overnight. But Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, the state’s largest public health insurer, is on a mission to transform care and improve health for every community it serves.
In the last year, Blue Cross committed $5 million to the University of Minnesota to establish the Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity. The organization also hired Bukata Hayes as its first vice president of racial and health equity.
Blue Cross was quick to respond to pandemic-related hardship, dedicating more than $150 million in premium relief credits, rebates, and accelerated payments directed at members, employers, and health care providers. In addition to financial relief, Blue Cross provided another $14.8 million in community investments to support food access, housing security, and more.
As an organization, Blue Cross hasn’t shied away from calling out the reason for disparities in health outcomes of white versus BIPOC Minnesotans: racism.
In the health care world, the “standard equation” to determine a person’s health, says strategic communications manager Christian Knights, is 10% from medical care, 10% from genetics, with 80% determined by everything else going on in a patient’s environment.
“That 80% is really what affects health,” Knights says. “That could be housing, that could be education, that could be public safety. But when you look at race, which is a social concept that we have created, it magnifies each one of those things significantly more. That is the driver, and how we talk about it at Blue Cross right now is we say it’s racism, not race. It’s systemic racism that’s impacting your health. It’s the system and the way it’s treating you.”
Blue Cross is on a mission to reinvent itself and the broader health care system. The organization plans to speak out, fund, and invest in local initiatives that empower communities and drive access to equitable health care.
Blue Cross recently pledged $500,000 to the Minnesota State University – Mankato to launch a scholarship program to support students interested in advancing equity in both health care and other fields related to social determinants of health. The donation will provide 24 scholarships at MSU over seven years. The organization also continues to target place-based partnerships to improve health outcomes for Minnesotans of color, starting with a pilot program in Brooklyn Center. —Winter Keefer