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How guaranteed income will change health equity among Californians

How guaranteed income will change health equity among Californians

This past year has taught us a lot about how much we depend on each other to thrive and how we need to help those who are suffering hardships. As a nonprofit health plan, we at Blue Shield of California also have gained insight into how we can better support communities throughout the state and help Californians and their families meet their basic needs – including access to health care, food, and housing.

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Peter Long

On March 23, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced a pilot initiative to provide 600 low-income Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) families with guaranteed income of $500 per month for at least 18 months. This program is a powerful example of actions that can be taken to address inequalities of all kinds, and how we can start to make a difference in local communities. It is the largest test of its kind in the U.S., coming on the heels of a similar program in Stockton that has been incredibly successful. 

Income and wealth can also be tied to improved health outcomes. Providing communities with guaranteed income can increase access to better and more extensive health care resources and can potentially improve the overall health of these populations. Holistic health is more than just a trip to the doctor. Studies have shown that 80% of factors that impact our health take place outside of our health care provider’s office. These social determinants of health include housing, food, transportation, and education, all of which are directly tied to finances and financial security. Providing an additional $500 per month to families in need will have a major impact on their overall health and wellbeing. The funds provided to these families can help to reduce stress, the need for monetary compromise and sacrifice, and insecurity about not being able to afford daily necessities.

Blue Shield has begun to address these critical issues through the deployment of community health advocates and the expansion of Wellvolution, an evidence-based marketplace that provides a range of curated solutions for common conditions. It represents the beginning of our journey to become a true “health” plan that improves the well-being of our members and all Californians.

As a mission-driven health plan focused on delivering the best solutions for communities in the Golden State, Blue Shield of California is constantly rethinking what health care could and should look like. We are addressing social determinants and other key drivers of holistic health, such as environmental, clinical, genetics and behavioral factors while connecting members to essential services, individualized care, and technology to support their overall health and well-being. That is why we have launched multiple pilot programs throughout California to address social determinants as a part of our Health Reimagined initiative.

But we are still learning from examples like Stockton and Oakland. And others are learning as well. Recently, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts started a guaranteed income pilot for artists in San Francisco. This program addresses another community that has been greatly affected by the pandemic.

Initiatives such as these inspire us to improve and to continue to build on ideas and develop solutions that remove barriers to healthcare access, understand risks and advocate for positive change. The goal is for everyone to have access to high-quality, affordable health care when they need it.

I applaud the efforts in these cities and there is much more we can all do to better incorporate social determinants of health into health care. The past year has shone a light on this, and we must now act.

Peter Long is Senior Vice President, Chief Healthcare Transformation and Affordability Officer at Blue Shield of California