Independence Blue Cross aims to get more Black patients screened for colorectal cancer

The COVID-19 pandemic drove a significant reduction in the number of Black patients who were getting screened for colorectal cancer, and Independence Blue Cross is aiming to change that in its home turf of Philadelphia.

The insurer and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to combating the disease, this week announced the launch of a new campaign called 45+Reasons that seeks to provide educational support and access to colorectal care to the Black community.

Independence Blue Cross will fund the program for $2.5 million, and the money goes directly to the Alliance, which funnels it to various community organizations that hold colorectal screening events among other things, according to a press release.

The name alludes to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force moving the recommended age to begin colorectal screening from 50 to 45. Screening for those 50 to 75 years old has an A recommendation, meaning it's strongly recommended, while screening those 45 to 49 years old has a B recommendation, meaning that there’s moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial.

The partners are aiming to break “the stigma associated with the disease," according to the release.

“Perhaps stigma is too strong of a word, but there is an unease, self-consciousness or embarrassment as it relates to an essential bodily function," Victor Caraballo, M.D., Independence’s vice president of quality management, told Fierce Healthcare. "The result is similar in that these feelings suppress screening."

The program seeks to get that message out through community engagement, social media and advertising campaigns that include fact-based support for colorectal cancer as a preventable cancer and aims to instill trust in the healthcare system.

Gregory E. Deavens, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, said in the press release that the insurer wants to break “down barriers to prevention, screening and care for communities who experience disparities in their health outcomes."

"One way we are addressing this is through this partnership with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to reduce gaps in colorectal cancer screening rates among Black Philadelphians, who are disproportionately impacted by colorectal cancer,” Deavens said.

Organizers hope to get more than 5,000 Black Philadelphians ages 45 to 75 screened for colorectal cancer to reduce significantly higher incidence and mortality rates among Black residents. Black Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 35% more likely to die from the disease.

However, the 45+Reasons won’t simply rely on statistics to encourage screening. The program will also highlight testimonials from people who explain their own reasons for getting screened, which might include anything from staying on a career trajectory to watching a child grow. Organizers plan to blanket the city with radio, digital, and social media advertising featuring the endorsements of screening by community members.

Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said in the press release that the Colorectal Cancer Alliance “is uniquely positioned to lead this bold health intervention."

"Through our innovative digital screening quiz and expert navigators, we helped more than 15,000 people across the nation access lifesaving preventive screening last year alone," Sapienza said. "We are so grateful to Independence Blue Cross for recognizing that access to quality care should not depend on your zip code.”

The effort is in keeping with data that suggest that more people are getting colorectal cancer at an earlier age. The Task Force based its recommendation on models “thought to better capture the currently observed epidemiologic trend of increasing incidence in adults younger than 50 years, which is thought to reflect cohort effects, with younger birth cohorts at greater risk for colorectal cancer than older cohorts.”