Centene, National Minority Quality Forum team up to study COVID-19's impact in minority communities 

Centene and NMQF will study how COVID-19 is impacting communities of color. (alvarez/Getty)

Insurer Centene Corp. and the National Minority Quality Forum are joining forces to study how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting communities of color. 

The Minority and Rural Health Coronavirus Study will offer free diagnostic and antibody testing in five states through Quest Diagnostics and will then track a cohort of 5,000 racial and ethnic minority volunteers over five years to monitor the long-term effects of COVID-19 on their lives. 

Gloria Wilder, M.D., vice president of innovation and health transformation at Centene, told Fierce Healthcare that the decision to launch the study was spurred by significant data showing that the virus had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, particularly black patients. 

"COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, it’s just that some of us have a worse outcome,” she said. “This has become one of the first health justice issues that this country, and the world, frankly, has had to tackle.” 

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The study participants who are positive for COVID-19 will be given monitoring kits and will be called each day by a provider to track symptoms and provide advice for the first 14 days. After that, providers will call weekly for the next month. 

The 11-person research team will analyze the findings and weigh-in with public health solutions. Suja Mathew, M.D., chair of medicine at Cook County Health and Hospital System in Chicago, will serve as principal investigator. 

Gary Puckrein, Ph.D., CEO of NMQF, told Fierce Healthcare that the research isn’t limited to Centene’s membership to ensure that the team is able to gather a wealth of diverse data. 

Research like this partnership, he said, is critical, as for now there isn’t a national plan for addressing the health challenges COVID-19 poses in minority communities. 

“Quite honestly, there is no national plan right now to really address what is clearly in front of us: that there are disproportionate mortality rates and hospitalization rates in these communities,” Puckrein said. 

RELATED: HHS requiring labs to report patients’ race, ethnicity with COVID-19 tests in effort to combat disparities 

He said that Centene and NMQF have been long-term partners, so the trust was there to launch an initiative like this. 

Wilder said that the disparities researchers are uncovering with COVID-19 are not new, and that the pandemic is exposing long-term health challenges in minority communities. She compared it to a boil that’s plagued the healthcare industry for a long time and is now finally getting noticed. 

“That boil, that disfunction, that infection has always been there—COVID-19 just lanced it,” she said. “And now, we have to deal with what’s coming out of it.”