Addressing SDoH, COVID-19 Vaccine at BCBS Minnesota

In this final part of a three-part video series, Craig Samitt, CEO and president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota talks with MHE about their focus on social determinants of health and the Covid-19 vaccine.

Addressing social determinants of health reach many avenues. For Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, one of the SDoH they currently focus their efforts on is food insecurity, according to CEO and President, Craig Samitt.

BCBS of Minnesota has heavily invested in food insecurity as it is one of the areas Samitt thinks they can make a meaningful impact, not just at BCBS, but in the community at large where health systems and health plans together touch nearly every member of a state.

He says one of their systems in the state has invested in a food pharmacy because they found a high utilization of emergency room visits due to many of their members being hungry.

Related: The Future of BCBS Minnesota with MLRs, Investing in Telehealth Models

"The cost of buying food for someone for a year is far less than a single emergency room visit, essentially, if you think of it that way," he says.

Samitt adds BCBS of Minnesota is putting their efforts on investing in minority owned businesses because SDoH for BCBS of Minnesota are in the "ounce." If they start to think inventively about how they can reduce inequities, then the payoff for a community is going to be significant.

"So one of the major drivers of inequity, systemic racism, is that we we haven't thought equitably about how to apply, who to partner with, how to make investments in in all sectors of our community," he says. "And so, if we truly want equity, we want to make investments in minority owned businesses and those minority owned businesses are focusing on innovation, specifically, that relates to social determinants of health and health inequities."

COVID-19 Vaccines

As COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed and given to those in America, Samitt says now is not the time people should worry about insurance continuity or out-of-pocket costs related to COVID and its vaccines.

"The vaccine should be available at no cost to anyone who wants the vaccine," he says. "And so that is a commitment that the government has made. That is a commitment that we as a health plan have certainly made. And, you know, we very much are cognizant of and want to watch out for surprise billing, or other channels that would have patients pay, and a surprise bill for a service that very much should be provided for free."

Samitt feels the role of BCBS of Minnesota is to educate and inform the people in their state about how to avoid surprise bills and what the right doorways are for them to take to assure there isn't fraud or quality concerns regarding the vaccine, just to make sure that people get the vaccine.

BCBS of Minnesota communicates with their members about this specific period of time by being very vocal to a point where they over-communicate.

"We've wanted to be close with both our teammates as well as our community and certainly the members that we serve so that we can be sort of a clear and trusted source of information for everything related to COVID," he says. "We have been very overt about our hopes and recommendations for the people that we serve and I would even go so far as to say that we've been provocative. We've been part of a team of many other health plans and providers in the state to launch even a media campaign over the course of the last several weeks, that bluntly, and frankly, very provocatively talks about the risks of this virus.

We want to keep doing that and I recognize that it's highly politicized and not everyone loves what we have to say when we're provocative about being safe, but we are in the health business after all, and our true north is keeping people healthy. So we are biased toward health. We are boldly and provocatively asking people to take care of themselves and each other."