What Is The Health Of America Initiative And How Is It Impacting Health Care Solutions?

The Health of America initiative is a source of insights, information and stories that highlight how Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies are leading the way to better healthcare—and better health—for America by using the knowledge gained from insuring 1 in 3 Americans. The initiative breaks down into three parts:

  • Health of America Report Series: A source of insights, information and stories that highlights key health trends based on deidentified member claims data. This data informs our understanding of local challenges, as well as larger national trends.
  • Alliance for Health Research: A broad collaboration with researchers from leading health institutions with a goal of improving the overall health of America.
  • BCBS Health Index: Measures the state of America’s health by deriving data from medical claims rather than general population statistics and self-reported survey data.

I recently interviewed Maureen Sullivan, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) to discuss The Health of America initiative and its most visible part, the report series, which leverages advanced analytics to identify and communicate health care issues and trends to the public, health care stakeholders and thought leaders. To date, more than 30 reports have been published on critical topics such as millennial health, maternal health depression, telemedicine, cancer and the opioid epidemic. Recent reports include insights tied to the health impacts associated with caregiving and how a rise in chronic conditions will impact colorectal cancer diagnoses in the future. With each report, the goal is to add to the ongoing dialogue around Americans’ overall health and wellness, while also turning data-driven insights into real-life, actionable solutions. Here is what Maureen had to say about this important initiative.

Gary Drenik: In September, Prosper’s survey data shows that 28.5% of Americans have utilized telemedicine during the pandemic. Have you seen telemedicine usage increase? If so, any interesting trends you’re seeing?

Maureen Sullivan: Telehealth has become increasingly important for millions of Americans these past few months as they pursue virtual care from a safe social distance. BCBS companies recognized the increased need and took quick action to collectively expand both coverage and access to virtual care services to help members receive appropriate, quality care without leaving their home. BCBS data shows our members are embracing care from home: virtual care has increased 3x for commercially insured consumers since summer 2019, and over half of that growth came since the start of the pandemic.

Telehealth and virtual care are truly changing the health care game, disrupting traditional care models and providing a glimpse of what lies ahead. With Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) data showing that 75% of Americans with behavioral health conditions are continuing therapy virtually during the pandemic, it is clear that many Americans are taking advantage of and find value in this critical technology. New data from a Sykes survey validates this claim, with 60% of consumers saying that Covid-19 pandemic has increased their willingness to try telehealth in the future. Additionally, Boston Consulting Group found that remote care has also increased in importance for the majority of patients (53%) due to the impact of the pandemic.

Drenik: We’ve seen reports around an increase in individuals – across all generations – taking on the role of unpaid caregiver due to family and loved ones impacted by Covid-19. What is BCBSA’s data showing?

Sullivan: BCBSA’s most recent Health of America report focuses on the impact of caregiving on mental and physical health and revealed that 26% of caregivers had poorer health compared to the benchmark population. When you drill down into the specific conditions this affects, some trends emerge. Caregivers have more stress-related physical and behavioral health conditions, including hypertension (64% more prevalent), major depression (37% more prevalent) and anxiety (34% more prevalent).

At the same time, Covid-19 has increased the demand for unpaid caregivers. BCBSA collaborated with ARCHANGELS, a national movement that is reframing how caregivers are recognized and supported, on the report and their survey found that 55% of caregivers did not identify as such prior to the pandemic. The survey also found that a greater number of Black (57%) and Hispanic (64%) caregivers are providing care for loved ones in their home than their White (37%) counterparts.

To help support caregivers and millennial health, BCBSA is hosting a virtual forum on October 28 and 29, bringing together caregivers and leading experts to discuss the data findings and spur impactful solutions. Several BCBS companies have also launched initiatives to address caregivers’ distinct needs around education, transportation and care coordination.

Drenik: Prosper’s September monthly survey showed that throughout the pandemic millennials have experienced more anxiety and depression compared to older generations dealing with many of the same stressors. Are you seeing any differences based on age demographics?

Sullivan: The caregiver report also looked at the generational makeup of caregivers. While those aged 22-37 are currently the smallest group of caregivers, millennial caregivers face more pronounced health impacts compared to previous generations. Millennial caregivers are more likely to experience stress-related conditions, with a 64% increase in major depression and 60% increase in anxiety compared to their non-caregiving peers. These conditions are already on the rise for the generation overall, as shown in the 2019 Health of Millennials report. This report also found that a little more than half (54%) of millennials think their mental health is “good or excellent.”

BCBS companies across the nation have noticed these trends and launched a variety of initiatives to better understand and care for the health of millennials and their needs. For example, Independence Blue Cross created its On to Better Health platform to streamline access to mental health resources, while Premera Blue Cross partnered with a large health care system to create a new, integrated health plan tailored to suit the needs of millennials.

Drenik: With millennials representing the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, what is this group’s health outlook and how could it impact spending power and employer costs in the future?

Sullivan: The Health of Millennials report from last year pointed to a generation at a tipping point – millennials had substantially higher diagnoses for eight of the top 10 health conditions compared to Generation X. While quantitative data helped us understand the situation, BCBSA sought to connect with millennials around the country to hear firsthand accounts that could lead to actions that reverse these troubling trends. The listening tour included 16 sessions held in 14 cities. At these events, BCBSA held candid discussions with millennials, involving them in conversations with other key stakeholders such as health care professionals, academics and employers.

This data also prompted BCBSA to partner with Moody’s Analytics for the Economic Consequences of Millennial Health report. Moody’s Analytics found poor health has real world implications for millennials: lower levels of health alone could cost millennials more than $4,500 per year in real per capita income compared to similarly aged Gen-Xers. Moreover, treatment costs for millennials are projected to be as much as 33% higher than Gen-Xers experienced at a comparable age.

By identifying these trends early on, BCBSA has helped transform the dialogue around millennial health and elevate this important conversation to a national audience. Equally important, BCBS companies are leading the way to develop health care solutions tailored to millennials specific needs. For example, BCBS of Rhode Island developed a certification program to transform clinics into “safe zones” for increasing numbers of LGBTQ millennial patients. Blue Shield of California began a digital platform to help millennials customize their health management and wellness resources. These are just a few of the real-world changes within the BCBS system that resulted from open dialogue with millennials.

Drenik: Thank you Maureen for discussing The Health of America initiative which focuses on the impact of caregiving on mental and physical health. This is a topic which is of high importance especially in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

To stay ahead of the post-pandemic consumer, Prosper’s US Signals series of datasets include leading indicators and advanced predictive analytics covering forward looking consumer spending plans, behaviors and economic outlook:

To read my previous Forbes articles on changing consumer behavior, predictive analytics, machine learning, data privacy and more, please click here.

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