You may know that Minnesotans have long been among the healthiest people in the nation, according to “The Health of Minnesota,” an April 2012 report published by the Minnesota Department of Health. However, you might not be aware that Minnesota has some of the largest race- and ethnicity-based health disparities in the United States, according to the same study.
At UCare, more than 100,000 of our members are racial or ethnic minorities, making us one of the most diverse health plans in the region. So eliminating race- and ethnicity-based inequities in health status is especially important to us.
In tackling this problem, we’ve come to understand that our health care system is tailored to middle-class patients. In other words, it’s geared for those who speak English, know how to find a doctor, make an appointment and have transportation to get there. But many individuals among Minnesota’s diverse communities are new immigrants, and they don’t have those skills or resources.
At UCare, we’ve succeeded in reducing such barriers by:
- Providing trained medical interpreters in a variety of languages.
- Involving our members in decision making. For example, members comprise 40 percent of our Board of Directors, and we have a Member Advisory Committee composed of a diverse cross-section of state public program members. We take their advice seriously and use it in our planning.
- Providing case managers for low-income elderly and disabled members who may have complex health care needs.
- Helping members get to medical appointments. Our Health Ride program provides transportation to covered health care services for eligible members.
- Educating our health care providers about differences among cultures, and how those differences might affect a patient’s approach to health care, through Culture Care Connection. UCare funds this website operated by Stratis Health, a Bloomington, Minnesota-based health care nonprofit that works to improve health care in the state. For example, Culture Care Connection teaches providers that in the Somali culture the left hand is considered “impolite.” Providers are therefore encouraged to use their right hand when offering medication to Somali patients. The resource also helps organizations meet federal standards on providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
- Providing information about what constitutes culturally competent care, through our own website.
- Employing workers who reflect our diverse membership. In fact, 119 of our 587 employees, or more than 20 percent, are from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Perhaps more important, at UCare we try to ensure that our actions mirror our words. Integrity and respect are key company values.
But the concepts won’t mean much to any member if we don’t do what we said we would do and if we don’t treat each person with respect.
It can be costly to improve access to care. However, as part of UCare’s financing model, we use some of the funding we receive from the state to implement programs that serve and improve access for our racially and ethnically diverse members and for their communities. Improving access is a cost but also an investment that creates positive outcomes for our members, providers and the broader community.
President and CEO
Nancy Feldman is the president and CEO of UCare, an independent, nonprofit health plan providing health coverage and services to nearly 300,000 members in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Learn more at www.ucare.org.