Providers are putting more focus than ever on health equity. Here's how payers can support them

Health equity is increasingly a priority for providers, and insurers can be a key partner in supporting those efforts, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).

More than half of health systems surveyed (58%) identified health equity as a top priority, up from 25% saying the same in 2019. Equity placed second to safety in the survey, which was flagged by 59% of surveyed systems.

Kedar Mate, M.D., president and CEO of IHI, told Fierce Healthcare that the "really immaterial" difference between the two is telling and highlights just how strongly they're invested in addressing this issue.

"I think the thing that is the biggest observable change in the report is the marked increase in organizations addressing health equity," he said.

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But while these organizations are committed to addressing equity, they face a number of significant barriers to this work, according to the survey. This is where partnerships with health plans can come in, Mate said.

For example, 38% of surveyed health systems said inconsistent data collection is a major hurdle, and 38% also said lack of resources beyond funding, such as staff, are key pain points. In addition, 28% cited a lack of funding, and 26% said they lacked the ability to demonstrate the impact of these works and/or they lacked guidance to know what to do next.

Payers can play a critical role in facilitating data exchange as well as setting clear standards for measuring the efficacy of health equity initiatives. Policymakers and regulators can play a similar role in addressing these challenges, according to the report.

Thirty percent of those surveyed said payers should be rethinking the way they design benefits to ensure reimbursement enables equitable care, and 20% said they can increase access in an equitable way, such as boosting coverage for telehealth or other alternatives that can reach vulnerable populations.

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Mate said building bridges to address health equity could pay off for future collaborations between payers and providers. Having a "responsive relationship" that allows both parties to work together readily translates into other scenarios.

For instance, IHI is working closely with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts as they rethought their processes for stratifying data on race and ethnicity. This work has translated into the insurer more effectively providing data on how providers are performing on population health initiatives.

"You could imagine a similar thing happening for any other dimension of healthcare quality going forward," Mate said.