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CMS Announces Awards for Care Disparities, Population Health

CMS has recognized HealthPartners and Centene Corporation for their efforts to reduce care disparities and increase healthcare access.

CMS announces awards for care disparities, population health

Source: Thinkstock

By Jessica Kent

- HealthPartners, a consumer-governed healthcare organization, and Centene Corporation, a Fortune 100 company, have received the 2019 CMS Health Equity Award for their work in improving care disparities and healthcare access.

CMS presented the award at the 2019 CMS Quality Conference to highlight organizations that are closing gaps in healthcare quality, access, and outcomes among minority and underserved populations.

“CMS recognizes that all beneficiaries should be able to achieve their highest level in care and works to ensure that disparities in healthcare quality and access are eliminated,” the organization stated.  

“Starting in 2018, CMS began recognizing organizations demonstrating a similar commitment to health equity by reducing disparities among the CMS beneficiaries they serve, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities, and those living in rural areas.”

HealthPartners serves 1.8 million members nationwide and 1.2 million patients through more than 90 medical, dental, and hospital locations in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The health system’s approach to reducing care disparities includes collecting data, increasing access to translators, partnering with communities, and creating an organizational understanding of equity, diversity, and bias.

This approach is helping HealthPartners reduce health disparities in clinic, health plan, and hospital settings. HealthPartners successfully reduced the colorectal screening gap between white and racial and ethnic minority patients by one-third, from 11.5 percent to 7.6 percent in one year.

Additionally, the organization was able to reduce the disparity in antidepressant medication compliance between whites and racial and ethnic minorities, going from 18.7 percent to 12.8 percent over three years.

Over the course of one year, HealthPartners was also able to nearly eliminate the gap in mental health length of stay between patients with limited English proficiency and those who prefer to communicate in English.

Centene Corporation was also recognized by CMS for its efforts to reduce gaps in care. The organization provides a range of services to government-sponsored and commercial programs, with a focus on underinsured or uninsured individuals.

Centene leaders recognized the need to address health barriers that patients with physical accessibility challenges face when trying to get healthcare. In 2018, the company partnered with the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) to increase the availability of accessible provider medical offices and services for people with disabilities.

“Studies have shown that Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities receive less preventive care due to inaccessible provider exam rooms and/or diagnostic equipment,” Dr. Ken Yamaguchi, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Centene, said in 2018.

“Through this partnership, Centene and NCIL aim to solve a vital national problem and key social determinant of health for people with disabilities and their companions.”

The initiative, called the Provider Accessibility Initiative (PAI), implemented the Barrier Removal Fund (BRF) in three pilot states, including Illinois, Texas, and Ohio. To date, 52 providers in these states have received grants from the Centene BRF.

The goal of PAI is to provide equal access to quality healthcare and services that are physically accessible for members with disabilities by increasing the percentage of Centene providers who meet minimum federal and state disability access standards.

Over 2500 onsite Accessibility Site Reviews have been conducted in Texas, Ohio, California, and Illinois. These reviews have resulted in over 36,000 of Centene’s members having improved access to their provider’s office.

Centene intends to rollout this initiative in Florida, Kansas, and New Mexico in the coming months, and continue to develop data collection processes and directory improvements that can be scaled across states.

In 2018, CMS named Kaiser Permanente as the first recipient of its Health Equity award. CMS recognized Kaiser Permanente’s Hypertension Program Improvement Process, which significantly reduced disparities in blood pressure control rates across racial and ethnic groups.

Going forward, CMS expects that recognizing healthcare organizations that are working to eliminate health disparities will help promote health equity in health systems across the country.

“CMS looks forward to recognizing another organization who can demonstrate results. The successful organization will be reducing disparities in healthcare quality, access, or outcomes for a priority population, including: racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities, or individuals living in rural areas,” CMS concluded. 

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