This week, health insurers committed to supporting a new effort to promote health equity by removing barriers to vaccinations for two million Americans most at risk of COVID-19, adhering to the philosophy that every American deserves access to safe, effective vaccines.
Insurers have been working with federal, state and local leaders on vaccination efforts, but now, members of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) have extended that commitment with the announcement of the Vaccine Community Connectors pilot initiative.
The Vaccine Community Connectors pilot aims to enable the vaccination of two million seniors age 65-plus in America's most at-risk, vulnerable and underserved communities – such as African American and Hispanic communities. Insurers will focus on their members and the communities they serve.
Members of AHIP and BCBSA have invited all health insurers to join them in the effort.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT?
As vaccine supplies expand and registrations become available, AHIP and BCBSA said insurers will use their combined expertise, data and insights to identify seniors 65-plus who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and who live in areas where vaccination rates are most inequitable.
They've also pledged to work with partners in the community to educate seniors on the safety, efficacy and value of coronavirus vaccines, and to contact eligible seniors through multiple channels to facilitate vaccine registration and appointment scheduling. They have pledged also to answer their questions about vaccines; help them to understand when, where, and how they can receive vaccines; remind them about any required second doses; and coordinate services to help overcome barriers that may stand between them and getting vaccinated, including transportation.
Also included in the efforts is a push to work with federal, state and local leaders to deliver vaccines to underserved communities and closely collaborate with other vaccination partners – pharmacies, for example. Insurers will also track progress to ensure those who need vaccinations most are receiving them.
Insurers will use their enrollee data and analytics capabilities, and will rely on a number of methods, including government resources such as the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), to help identify the 25% most vulnerable communities.
The SVI is a metric used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that considers 15 social factors across socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, and housing type and transportation.
Social index data will be paired with other data, such as vaccination histories and the prevalence of chronic conditions, thus ostensibly improving accuracy and efficiency in the effort. By tailoring the outreach approach to each community, insurance providers will presumably be able to best meet unique community needs.
By way of example, some communities may best be served by mobile clinics, language assistance or a combination of interventions. Others will benefit from insurers who partner directly with rideshare services to provide transportation to vaccine appointments at no cost to the member.
THE LARGER TREND
Vaccination efforts are ramping up in the U.S. This week, Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine just received emergency use authorization, and Merck announced they are partnering with the federal government to ramp up manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine.
President Joe Biden reportedly said that there will be enough of the vaccine for all American adults by the end of May. The previous estimate was July. The move is consistent with the administration's mission to ensure the country has sufficient long-term sustainable capacity to manufacture vaccines.
In February, Blue Shield of California signed a contract with the state of California to develop a vaccine allocation algorithm with a focus on equitable and efficient distribution. The agreement makes Blue Shield the state's Third Party Administrator with the goal of distributing three million doses per week by this week and four million doses per week by the end of April.
ON THE RECORD
"Improving health equity means setting important goals, removing barriers to better care, and meeting people where they are," said Tonya Adams, national spokesperson for the Vaccine Community Connectors program and chief customer experience officer at Regence BlueCross BlueShield.
"This is a seminal moment in America. We look forward to working with all partners across the public and private sectors to provide millions of seniors with an equal opportunity for protection from this virus."
"Vaccines save lives, and health insurance providers have been working hard to break down barriers that stand between Americans and COVID-19 vaccines," said Matt Eyles, AHIP president and CEO.
"We will continue to work on that commitment with all levels of government and every organization that shares our goal until we defeat the COVID-19 crisis together."