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Tennessee Blues Enlists Pastors to Help Reduce Healthcare Disparities

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, December 4, 2013

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee developed a tool kit for churches to use to improve immunization rates among minorities and rural whites in the state. Next up: Behavioral health and chemical dependency problems.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is working with churches and other faith-based organizations to improve its HEDIS scores related to childhood and adolescent immunizations for its members.

Through its BlueCare Tennessee subsidiary, which manages 450,000 Medicaid members, BCBSTN is partnering with the faith-based community to address the immunization disparities that exist within minority populations and the rural white population in the state. In 2012, less than one-quarter of African-American children (21%) and only 11% of Hispanic children in Tennessee received the recommended immunizations.

HEDIS, the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set, is a set of 75 measures across eight domains of care, developed by the National Committee for Quality Assurance to measure health plans' performance on care and service. HEDIS is used by more than 90% of U.S. health plans.

Earlier this year, the Blues plan established a 12-member disparities advisory board comprising local experts and community leaders to help the insurer develop a course of action to address a wide range of healthcare disparities, including the immunizations gap. Rafielle Freeman, director of quality improvement for BlueCare, says the committee came up with the idea of approaching pastors and churches as a way to reach minorities across the state.

"Tennesseans listen to their pastors and ministers," she explains. "The faith leader's voice can be powerful in promoting good health."

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