In the past three months, Rhode Island has experienced what’s possible when we work together across sectors to face dual pandemics — a public-health crisis that arose suddenly and a moral crisis that has lasted for hundreds of years, the perpetuation of institutional racism.
United around a common goal, business, community and government leaders have set aside individual agendas to focus on protecting the health and safety of Rhode Islanders and advancing social justice.
As head of Rhode Island’s largest health insurer, I am proud of what we’ve done to champion policy changes that created immediate access to needed care and removed barriers to treatment of COVID-19. We expanded access to telehealth so that patients can see their health-care providers, including behavioral health and specialist providers, without leaving their homes. The data we collect is helping providers to identify and reach out to high-risk patients to mitigate potential virus exposure and spread.
I am also humbled by the actions of our employees in reaction to both pandemics, which have disproportionately hit our most vulnerable communities. Both pandemics have discriminated by race, age and socio-economic status. Blue Cross employees have stepped up. They work with the Rhode Island Coalition of the Homeless to get necessary supplies to dozens of homeless shelters and service providers across the state. They are helping Latino Public Radio to disseminate critical information in Spanish throughout the Latinx community. And they have participated in company and public forums to expose and address issues of inequality and injustice.
Our company is prepared to seize this moment to initiate even bolder changes. We are ready to fix a system we know to be broken, to think creatively and futuristically, to accelerate innovations that will lead to better health care for all Rhode Islanders.
For example, enhanced telehealth, strategically (and conveniently) integrated with primary care can result in better outcomes. Further, introducing a model that provides a steady stream of income for providers rather than reimbursing them for services performed will lead to greater stability for their practices. It’s also time to tackle the exorbitant cost of new curative drugs. Adopting a pooled-resources approach similar to what we already have in place for immunizations may be the answer. Thanks to the state’s immunization fund, when a vaccine is developed for COVID-19, Rhode Island will be able to purchase enough to vaccinate all Rhode Islanders.
But these changes will not be enough if we do not address the societal inequities that these pandemics have so cruelly exacerbated. Fortunately, we had begun this work in earnest last year. Recognizing that zip code is more important than genetic code in determining health outcomes, Blue Cross and the Brown University School of Public Health launched the RI Life Index, an annual survey measuring Rhode Islanders’ perceptions…
Read More: My Turn: Kim Keck: Two pandemics, one imperative: Transform health care In Rhode