By Laura Hennen - Public Relations Principal | Digital and Social Engagement

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Health Equity Month at Blue Cross: Recognizing disparities matter for business

April 12, 2018

April is National Minority Health Month, which was established to raise awareness of disparities that affect racial and ethnic minorities. To align with this, for the second year in a row, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has named April as Health Equity Month for the business—  a time to highlight the organization’s focus on health equity as part of the company’s strategic plan.

To get an understanding of why health equity matters for Blue Cross—and the current state of the work, we sat down with Rosemond Owens, director of health equity, diversity and inclusion. Here’s what she had to say.

Why do these conversations matter?

They matter because health equity is so important to Blue Cross’ business goals. We have to talk about structural racism, implicit bias and other causes of inequity to ensure we are meeting the needs of all Minnesotans and remove the barriers that keep many minority groups from improving their health.

This isn’t easy work, and we understand these conversations may be uncomfortable for many, but we are focused on steering employees to think more deeply about disparities and making these conversations more commonplace.

To ease this discomfort, Blue Cross is holding various events throughout April as an engaging and deep way to help employees think about health equity differently. This is all part of how we are setting the groundwork for the organization to do our work differently.

This helps us to not only have a shared understanding of what health equity means—which is very important—but also creates a sense of urgency within the organization to make meaningful changes that will help us make business decisions that do not create additional inequities and barriers for Minnesotans.

How does Blue Cross hold these conversations in a way people can understand?

We are following a model created by the organization Race Forward—normalizing, organizing and operationalizing. This model describes the three stages of understanding racial disparities. Blue Cross is currently in the normalizing stage.

Across the company, we are working hard to make discussing health inequities more common. This will help make it easier and more comfortable to talk about health equity as an important part of how we make business decisions going forward.

How is Blue cross making health equity a "normal part of the work"?

We are building competency by training our employees. For example, we have employees from multiple business areas that have been trained as health equity coaches. They are a unique group of individuals— who guide our employees to consider health equity as part of reaching business goals. By doing trainings like these, Blue Cross is taking the necessary steps to build the company’s capacity and competency to do this work well.

How will Blue Cross integrate this into the company's business operations?

We’ve done a little bit of integration, namely through first bringing our senior leaders on board. We are now rolling that out throughout the business. This takes time and dedication. To fully integrate equity thinking into business, a company has to put ideas into action by starting with a specific part of the business and building up from there.

One tangible step Blue Cross has taken to infuse health equity into our business operations is to create a health equity policy. For example, as part of the roll out of this policy, later this year we will begin to embed equity language in our human resources policies.

Additionally, the Center for Prevention team has done a lot of work to integrate health equity into their processes, including incorporating equity principals into RFP process. [Editor’s note: you can read more about how the Center for Prevention did that work in this Glass Pockets blog post.]

Why does this matter for Blue Cross' business?

We serve people across Minnesota and the face of Minnesota is changing. As a state, we are becoming more diverse. That means that as an organization, we need to be ready to serve the members who come from different cultural backgrounds.

Blue Cross understands that we need to do business differently in order to continue to be relevant. Minnesota’s changing population presents a unique opportunity. Blue Cross will need to change the way we do business to support our changing communities. Focusing on health equity is an important step in doing that.

Any final thoughts?

The truth of the matter is that inequities don’t happen by chance— they are not random, they are not neutral; they have been created. Inequities by themselves will not disappear on their own. Inequities, policies, practices need to be changed to serve our members and all Minnesotans. We need to do something different for Blue Cross to continue to live its mission.

Editor’s note: the ribbons in the above image are on display at Blue Cross as part of Health Equity Month. They share statistics that show health inequities that minority populations face. Employees are encourage to take the ribbon as a reminder of the importance of Blue Cross’ health equity work. 

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