Disclaimer: The views presented here are of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of United Hospital Fund, its staff, or its board of directors.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., the Biden administration is implementing plans to increase the pace of vaccinations. Frontline health care providers have garnered the public’s respect and admiration by serving as trusted sources of information about vaccine safety and effectiveness. As these conversations take place, there is a special opportunity for health plans to partner with physicians, hospitals, and community-based organizations to bolster vaccine adoption.
As efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine proceed, health plans can and should join other stakeholders to address vaccine hesitancy among underserved and disadvantaged groups. Hospitals and clinicians at the point of care are uniquely positioned to be a source of truth and can help dispel myths around the vaccine and provide guidance on safety and effectiveness. Health plans support patients in every health care encounter and can amplify the important messages being conveyed by clinicians through their websites, portals, and direct member communication.
EmblemHealth has conducted research to understand how to approach this conversation, what inherent biases exist, and what language resonates with different populations. We found that people generally understand the difference between the terms “shot,” “vaccination,” and “immunization,” with the latter two being the preferred terms across all groups. Consistent with previous research findings, Black populations report hesitancy to receive the vaccination due to concerns about safety and effectiveness, regardless of the terminology used.
To make it easy for our members to access scientifically sound information and have their questions answered in real time, we created a microsite that harnesses the latest information from the CDC and state and local public health agencies. Through EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care, our brick-and-mortar retail locations throughout New York City, we are also providing support services and partnering with public libraries and leaders of community-based organizations to conduct outreach.
In addition, health plans can partner with employer groups and unions to ensure members have up-to-date information on the vaccine and assistance with scheduling their care on the phone or through their member portals. We are also working with our physician network partners to assist them with patient outreach. AdvantageCare Physicians (ACPNY), a subsidiary physician practice of EmblemHealth, has been approved to distribute vaccines across New York City’s five boroughs and Long Island and is also ensuring patients receive timely notifications to get their second dose when needed. Many of ACPNY’s medical offices are located in underserved, vaccine-hesitant communities, and ACPNY will join other physician groups, hospitals, and community partners to provide information and answers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a turning point for our country. It has shone a harsh spotlight on the years-long neglect in adequate public health funding. It has exacerbated gaps in care and drawn attention to the stark digital divide in health care. These are issues we can all jointly prioritize as the new administration begins its work in Washington. Messaging and collaboration around the importance of vaccinations for families, communities, and the country are great places for payers and providers to start.
Karen Ignagni is the President & CEO of EmblemHealth, New York’s largest nonprofit health insurer.
United Hospital Fund has a long history of bringing together diverse perspectives to address critical challenges in health care in New York. In the current crisis, it’s more important than ever to hear from all parts of the health care system. Today’s commentary from Karen Ignagni, President & CEO of EmblemHealth, spotlights opportunities for health plans to partner with providers to boost vaccine adoption. – UHF President Tony Shih