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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Leading New Efforts with Providers to Improve Health Equity

CHICAGO — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is partnering with the provider community on additional programs aimed at improving health care outcomes in minority groups, increasing the diversity and cultural competency of the physician workforce and advancing awareness on implicit bias — the unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that can influence behavior.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the significant health disparities impacting BCBSIL members and communities across the state. City of Chicago data revealed that Latinos have the highest Covid-19 infection rates (18%), while Black Chicagoans have the highest rate of deaths, totaling more than 40% of the city’s total number of deaths. Statewide data highlights similar disparities.

This concerning trend led BCBSIL to develop the Health Equity Hospital Quality Incentive Pilot Program.

The Program’s immediate objective is to support hospitals serving the highest concentrations of BCBSIL members in Illinois communities who are often most at risk of contracting COVID-19 and, in the long term, improving the quality of care by elevating a focus on health equity and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in care.

Hospitals invited to join the Program must demonstrate a commitment to pursuing health equity and reducing health disparities for BCBSIL members served at the hospital over the next three years.  BCBSIL worked with hospitals to supplement and replace existing bonus programs in order to create space for this Program which will collectively provide approximately $100 million in funding to participating hospitals.

“Even before COVID-19, we knew that to change the way health care is delivered to minority communities, we needed to team with and support our providers,” said Salma Khaleq, vice president Provider Strategy and Partnerships for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “By increasing provider capacity and capabilities to deliver care that is more equitable and more responsive to the social determinants of health, we are aiming to make demonstrable progress, which is long overdue. What you look like and where you live shouldn’t be a factor in your health.”

Multiple Illinois providers are committed to piloting the program, including:

  • Memorial Health System in central Illinois. Ed Curtis, president and CEO of Memorial Health System, noted that Memorial earlier this year had strengthened and formalized an equity, diversity and inclusion initiative as part of its efforts to identify and reduce inequities in access to health care in the region it serves.

“We cannot achieve our mission without acknowledging and addressing the barriers to care created by systemic racism and other forms of discrimination inherent in our culture and communities,” Curtis said. “We are pleased that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois also has committed to supporting providers in our work to eliminate these disparities.”

  • UI Health is the academic and clinical health enterprise of the University of Illinois Chicago. It serves approximately 500,000 patients each year who live primarily on the South and West Sides of Chicago and includes a 462-bed tertiary care hospital, 26 outpatient clinics and a network of 14 federally funded community health clinics.

“UI Health has a long history of serving vulnerable communities and we want what is best for our patients – that’s why have a strong focus on improving health equity and that’s why we welcome the opportunity to partner with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois to reduce the disparities experienced by communities of color and other underserved communities in Chicago,” said Dr. Heather Prendergast, an emergency room physician at UI Health and associate dean for clinical affairs at UIC’s College of Medicine. “We are proud to be selected for this pilot program and are grateful for the resources and incentives it will provide as we continually seek to improve care and outcomes among the communities we serve.”

BCBSIL is also launching the BCBSIL Institute for Physician Diversity (IPD). This first-of-its kind effort aims to strategically partner a health insurance payer with academic medical centers, teaching hospitals, and not-for-profit associations to achieve greater racial and ethnic diversity in the physician workforce.

“Our physician workforce does not represent the racial and ethnic diversity of our state and this issue is not unique to Illinois.  We have an obligation as a health insurer to help accelerate the efforts of our medical education community to address this structural disparity,” said Dr. Derek J. Robinson, Vice President and chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. 

The IPD will work with hospitals and academic medical centers under the pilot program to accelerate the recruitment of medical students, resident physicians, and clinical faculty who are underrepresented in medicine.  Efforts will embrace effective practices and guidance from national organizations, including the AAMC and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) such as the importance of implicit bias education along the medical education continuum, including staff and leaders, and the commitment of the organization’s senior leadership to achieve improved outcomes.

These programs build on and help advance work already underway with providers to increase health equity, including:

  • Teaming with the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) Institute for Diversity and Health Equity (IFDHE) on a grant program to support the work of 13 Illinois hospitals and health care organizations in reducing disparities in health care. Awards between $25,000 and $100,000 are being used to support new programs designed to help the awardees eliminate an identified health care disparity in their local communities and work toward ensuring safe, equitable and high-quality health care for all of their patients.
  • Funding cultural competency and implicit bias education, as well as providing incentives for providers in value-based care arrangements to complete the trainings.
  • Partnering with providers across the state in high health disparate communities to increase flu vaccines and childhood immunizations as well as other important screenings through the BCBSIL Care Van program.


About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is committed to expanding access to quality, cost-effective health care to as many people as possible in Illinois. BCBSIL is dedicated to innovation and exploring, nurturing, and activating future possibilities to make the health care system work better for our members and our communities. BCBSIL is a division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company and an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

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A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association