A look at Blue Shield of California's new maternal health equity initiative

Blue Shield of California has launched a community health-focused program aimed at addressing disparities in maternal and infant health, the insurer announced Wednesday.

The Maternal Child Health Equity Initiative will make services available to expectant mothers in Fresno, Los Angeles and Sacramento through physician referral, Blue Shield said. Through the program, the insurer will collaborate with community health organizations to connect mothers with family-centered services, emergency funds and necessary supplies.

Blue Shield will also team with these organizations to provide training to doulas, who will work with the mothers to ensure they feel heard, supported and informed during pregnancy to help address racial gaps in maternal care outcomes.

In addition, Blue Shield is signing on with tech startup Mahmee, which will make it easier to access their medical records as well as educational materials and other guidance during the process.

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DD Johnice, vice president of the transformation lab at Blue Shield, told Fierce Healthcare that the program is a "perfect marriage of passion and having the right tools." The insurer, she said, has made a commitment to health equity that starts from the top.

"What we really tried to do here was bring in partners that would allow us to wrap those moms in resources," she said.

The community-based approach is critical, she said, as patients are more likely to trust these partner organizations than they may trust an insurer or even a healthcare provider. 

Data from the Department of Health and Human Services show that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women and are more than twice as likely to receive late or no prenatal care when compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Nationally, Black infants are more than twice as likely to die than white babies, a trend that holds in California, Blue Shield noted. 

Johnice said that her team at Blue Shield sees opportunity to build on the foundation of this maternal health initiative for other health equity work and that it has already pulled learnings from this program into other efforts targeting underserved patient populations.

"What we really want to do is put equity at the forefront of everything that we’re doing as we build out what equitable access looks like in every realm," Johnice said.