Blue Shield of California, Venus Williams team to tackle bias in healthcare

A sign reading 'Welcome to California'
Blue Shield of California has enlisted a sports star for a campaign targeting healthcare biases and disparities. (Getty/ChrisBoswell)

Blue Shield of California is taking aim at biases in healthcare with help from tennis great Venus Williams.

The insurer is teaming up with the seven-time Grand Slam winner for the "Hear Me" campaign, which aims to lift the voices of women about their experiences navigating racial and gender biases in the healthcare system, Blue Shield announced this week.

In addition to Williams, women featured in the campaign include an ovarian cancer survivor and a woman who will discuss her struggles with a recent pregnancy, particularly in light of worrying data on Black maternal health challenges.

Suzanne Buffington, senior director of marketing at Blue Shield, told Fierce Healthcare that women may not feel heard by their providers when they seek healthcare.

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"We want to be able to tap Venus to encourage people to tell their stories, but also to encourage people to be an advocate for their own health," Buffington said. "If you’re not feeling heard, then let a provider know."

Williams will collaborate with Blue Shield over the next year on a slew of topics including autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s syndrome, which she has, mental health, Black maternal health, fitness and wellness.

“Unfortunately, many women—including myself—have felt dismissed, ignored, or even faced judgement when seeking answers about their health,” said Williams in a statement. “It’s important that we speak up and let our stories be told. I’m grateful to have found answers around my health challenges and want to help other women do the same.”

The Hear Me campaign is part of the broader “Who We Stand For Sets Us Apart" effort, which celebrates the strength and accomplishments of women. Other past participants include Chelsea Werner, a four-time Special Olympics gymnastics champion, a Latina trauma nurse, a military veteran and a ballet dancer who is in her 60s.

Buffington said Blue Shield had been planning this work prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic put an even greater emphasis on health disparities.

She said the team then worked to take the existing concept "with the lens of COVID."

"We’ve already known that the disparities exist, and it was just really an opportunity to take what was even heighted during COVID and continue to tell that story through this campaign," Buffington said.