I am extremely troubled with the details reported in The Buffalo News (State approves HealthNow affiliation with Highmark of Pittsburgh) regarding the agreement to spend as little as $2 million a year for the next five years to address issues related to race and health in Western and Northeastern New York as a result of this deal.
The amount pales in comparison to similar deals within New York State that have been approved by the New York Department of Financial Services and threatens to take money (paid by local Blue Cross Blue Shield customers) out of New York that can and should be used to address critical health disparities.
Allow me to share them with you:
1) In 2001, Univera Health Care affiliated with Excellus, a Rochester-based BCBS plan, and the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York was founded and endowed with assets that would eventually total approximately $100 million.
2) In 2006, MVP Health Care of Schenectady affiliated with Rochester-based Preferred Care. As a result of this merger the Insurance Plan endowed a $200 million organization to promote good health in the Rochester/Finger Lakes Region.
3) In 2018, CVS Health affiliated with Aetna and as a result CVS set up Building Healthier Communities, a $100 million initiative over a five-year period to support community health programs statewide.
4) In 2018, Centene affiliated with Fidelis-New York State Catholic Health Care Plan. As a result of this, Fidelis transferred the proceeds of the sale, $3.1 billion, and created the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to address the health care needs of vulnerable New Yorkers.
It is estimated that BCBS currently may have as much as $700 million in reserves generated by customers in Western New York and New York State. It is unconscionable that HealthNow, our elected officials, and the State of New York did not work to ensure that these dollars be reallocated back into our community, particularly one that has significant health issues, and will instead be controlled by an out-of-state entity.
At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated significant health care disparities for people of color, and vaccine acceptance is significantly lower in these communities due in part to mistrust, better understanding of these issues is imperative. This affiliation presents an opportunity for us to demonstrate a commitment to addressing health disparities. We cannot and should not continue the historic pattern of neglect and disinvestment in communities of color.
As a community, we need to do much better.
For additional background:
Business First of Buffalo: Gioia: HealthNow/Highmark deal falls short in community investment
Buffalo News: Highmark defends $10 million contribution in face of criticism