New Blue Cross Blue Shield Association initiative takes aim at social determinants of health 

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Blue Cross Blue Shield Association's new initiative aims to reduce barriers to services such as pharmacies. (The Photographer under Creative Commons license)

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has launched a new initiative that digs into social determinants of health and aims to chip away at geographical impediments to care.  

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute will work with business partners to break down access barriers and improve outcomes, according to an announcement. So far, the institute has teamed up with CVS Health, Walgreens and Lyft. 

It is also spurring BCBS insurers across the country to focus more on programs targeting the "ZIP code effect," or the fitness, transportation and pharmacy deserts that exist in different regions. In addition to partnering with organizations that can help tackle these concerns, the BCBS Institute is using data analytics to monitor trends in the social determinants of health for the neighborhoods it serves. 

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"Serving one in three Americans in nearly every geographic area in the country, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies know all too well that what often dictates health isn't genetic code, but ZIP code," Scott P. Serota, CEO of BCBSA and chair of the institute's board, said in the announcement.  

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In partnering with Lyft, BCBS Institute is one of several organizations playing a central role in the ride-hailing service's goal to reduce the healthcare transportation gap by 50% over the next two years. Lyft has been working with BCBSA for close to a year, and the association is far from the only healthcare company to test out new partnerships with Lyft or Uber

BCBS Institute's work with CVS and Walgreens seeks to increase access to pharmacy services, but none of the companies elaborated on exactly how they plan to do that. The institute will expand its scope to fitness and nutrition deserts next year. 

Independence Blue Cross, Highmark Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana are among the BCBS affiliates that have latched onto the project.

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Steve Udvarhelyi, M.D., CEO of BCBS of Louisiana, said providers who contract with the payer expressed concern about patients who may lack access to transportation or wellness programs, which prompted the insurer to get involved with the institute. 

"One of our chosen providers told us, 'The institute has excited everyone at our facility and is the type of innovation we like to see,'" Udvarhelyi said.