9 health systems, plans earn new NCQA health equity accreditation targeting community partnerships

Nine healthcare organizations have been accredited by a new health equity program offered by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). 

The nine, announced last week, participated in an eight-month-long pilot of the Health Equity Accreditation (HEA) Plus program—meant to build on the existing HEA program. The Plus program is for participants with a solid foundation for addressing equity that are seeking to partner with community-based organizations to better address their patients’ or members’ social needs. 

The nine organizations are: 

1. Aetna Better Health of Michigan

2. Geisinger Health Plan

3. Health Net of California 

4. Hennepin Healthcare

5. Molina Healthcare of California Partner Plan

6. Novant Health

7. Simply Healthcare Plans

8. UnitedHealthcare Community Plan

9. UPMC For You

Not only did they participate in the program and partner with community groups, they also helped hone the program for future participants, NCQA confirmed to Fierce Healthcare. In selecting this cohort of partner participants, NCQA wanted organizations across the stakeholder continuum that had a strong history of addressing health equity and were geographically diverse. As the cohort went through the program, it also partook in a unique peer-to-peer learning experience.

The cohort’s completion is an “important validation of the NCQA health equity standards,” NCQA Director of Health Equity Initiatives Bryan Buckley said in a press release. “As more states require Health Equity Accreditation, these first organizations to earn Health Equity Accreditation Plus will stand out as examples for others to emulate.”

Health equity is key to improved quality and safety, and Novant Health is committed to it "beyond merely a program, but as a culture change strategy,” said Chere Gregory, M.D., senior vice president and chief health equity officer at Novant Health, in an announcement. “We look forward to the advancement of health equity through continued partnership and best-practice learnings between other entities participating in this program.”

The program launched earlier this year after COVID illuminated “the value creation of cross-sectional partnerships,” Buckley told Fierce Healthcare. “Health equity is a team sport; it can’t be done by any one organization.” It is an extension of the existing HEA program, which provides a framework for developing standardized processes to address health inequities as an organization. 

As of mid-2021, six state agencies (PDF) required this distinction. This distinction is also a prerequisite for the HEA Plus program, but organizations can pursue both at the same time. As health systems move away from the immediate demands of the COVID pandemic, more are expressing interest in the HEA Plus accreditation, Buckley said.

NCQA hopes to keep in touch with participants to see how their work evolves and what they learn along the way. “Partnerships require constant learning,” he said. “This is just only the first step.” 

The status of each subsequent organization that earns a distinction will be updated on the NCQA site.