Health equity can be achieved only when every person has the opportunity to reach their full health potential, regardless of social, economic, or environmental circumstances – and today, that is more of an aspiration than a reality in the United States. That’s because groups of people in this country still experience greater obstacles to health based on their race, ethnicity, education, literacy, income level, language, culture, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and the conditions in the environments where they live and work.
At The Cigna Group, we are committed to health equity, and we envision a world where all people can attain the highest level of health, wellness, and vitality. One key way we work toward this vision is by partnering with providers to make a sustainable impact on the health care system. For nearly 15 years, The Cigna Group’s Collaborative Accountable Care (CAC) program has improved access to coordinated care by working with networks of doctors, hospitals, and specialty providers to adopt value-based metrics that reward providers based on the improved outcomes, affordability, and experiences they achieve – rather than just the number of services they provide. The CAC program takes this model to another level as an industry leader in embedding health equity outcomes into these value-based relationships. We do this by creating a culture of collaboration and accountability, and through financial rewards for providers who proactively screen for social determinants of health (SDOH) and create programs or initiatives to address health disparities.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the CAC program, The Cigna Group recently launched the Health Equity Action Awards to celebrate and recognize CAC provider partners who are going above and beyond to achieve health equity. Read on to learn more about the three winners and how their programs are bringing our vision of health equity to life in the communities they serve.
Gold Award: Novant Health Nourishes – Addressing food insecurity
Novant Health wins our top award, the Health Equity Action Gold Award, for their work addressing food insecurity in the greater Winston-Salem area of North Carolina with their “food as medicine” strategy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 13.5 million Americans were food insecure at some point during 2021. Food insecurity is associated with increased risk for a wide variety of chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease, and a range of mental health disorders.
To combat this in the Winston-Salem community, Novant Health began screening for food insecurity during annual wellness visits and check-ups, with the goal of identifying community members who lacked consistent access to nutritious meals. Among those screened, they found that women, children, Black and African American patients, and patients from the LGBTQ+ community were disproportionally affected by food insecurity – including some patients who lacked enough food to get through the day.
To address these needs, Novant Health developed Novant Health Nourishes, a plan to help those who screenced positive for food insecurity. Novant Health prepared and began distributing emergency packs of healthy food packages for families of four and for individuals, along with ”pop top” food packs of ready-to-eat meals for those without access to cooking appliances. The packs, which are sourced from local food banks and community partners, are distributed at points of care when urgent food insecurity is identified during SDOH screenings. To support longer-term access to food, Novant Health also helps connect food insecure individuals to print or digital resources to navigate local food pantries and social benefit programs, and connects those with multiple social needs to community health workers and social workers.
Since the launch of the program in January 2022, Novant Health has conducted nearly 370,000 screenings for food insecurity and connected nearly 60% of food insecure patients with a local community resource.
As the winner of our Gold Award, Novant Health will be presented with $10,000 from The Cigna Group to support the program through a 501c3 charity of their choice. Novant Health was also recently invited to The Cigna Group’s national client account forum to share their initiative and outcomes with hundreds of the nation’s leading businesses and organizations, with the goal of helping others enact similar programs to address health disparities and build awareness from their findings.
Silver Award: Northwell Health – Innovative and collaborative COVID response
Northwell Health in the New York market wins our Health Equity Action Silver Award for their innovative and collaborative COVID-19 response. As we reflect on the initial onset of COVID-19, we see clearly that certain communities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. For example, during the height of the pandemic, research found that African American and Black, Hispanic, and Asian individuals were at substantially higher risk for infection, hospitalization, and death compared to their white counterparts.
In 2020, Northwell Health was the first health care provider in New York State to bring testing access directly to communities of need, emerging as a national leader in addressing the disproportionate impact on under-resourced, low-income communities. Building upon their experience from the early days of the pandemic, Northwell Health quickly committed to helping combat mistrust in the health care system and address issues related to digital health literacy.
Northwell Health set up a health equity task force, working directly with community and faith leaders and local government. Together, they established grassroots distribution of culturally competent and multilingual educational materials and convenient testing and vaccination sites in areas of most need.
“Northwell Health’s work in the early days of the pandemic saved lives and through their continued actions addressing the health disparities that vulnerable, low-income communities often face – they are making health care more equitable,” said Dr. Ronald Menzin, Regional Medical Executive - Northeast, Cigna Healthcare. “We are proud to present them with this well-deserved honor.”
To date, they provided over 700,000 vaccine doses at over 1,100 faith-based and community pop-up locations, with more than half administered to community members in areas with the greatest social need. Additionally, they distributed over 12,500 copies of culturally appropriate educational materials and resource guides.
Bronze Award: Phoenix Children’s Care Network – Standardized SDOH screening and referral for children
Research shows that children with unmet SDOH needs are more likely to experience developmental delays, have decreased functioning of their immune and nervous systems, and have behavioral and mental health issues.
Phoenix Children’s Care Network wins our Health Equity Action Bronze Award for their work in screening children and their families for SDOH in Arizona and for creating a referral process to help support and manage unmet social needs. They developed a comprehensive, standardized set of SDOH screening tools for their network of over 1,000 pediatric primary care providers and specialists, with the goal of screening every patient at every visit. Their approach aims to establish a level of comfort, sensitivity, compassion, and patient empowerment around SDOH screenings. For those identified as at-risk, Phoenix Children’s Care Network established an Integrated Care Coordination team, comprised of care navigators, social workers, nurses, and others to help guide families through resources and support.
To date, this Integrated Care Coordination team has identified thousands of needs related to SDOH among children and helped coordinate. Going forward, the team is aiming for a 25% increase in the number of standardized SDOH screenings.
As part of our commitment to embedding health equity into value-based care, The Cigna Group is proud to recognize these initiatives and achievements in health equity from our CAC partners. We received nearly 40 submissions from CAC providers across the country, illustrating the power of value-based relationships and innovation when it comes to combatting health disparities. Beyond celebrating these impactful health equity initiatives, we look forward to exploring more ways to collaborate to help more people across our communities. We hope these awards will help spread best practices and findings and encourage providers to follow in the footsteps of Novant Health, Northwell Health, and Phoenix Children’s Care Network.
Health equity at The Cigna Group
The Cigna Group has promoted the identification of health disparities and influenced the development of solutions that result in more equitable health among our customers, our workforce, and in the community.