Multicultural Health Care Distinction, Addressing Disparities & COVID-19

A crucial part of our mission at NCQA is to foster a healthcare ecosystem where all patients receive the best care possible.  This can’t happen unless the organizations responsible for that care understand—and are sensitive to—the make-up of their populations

Sounds simple enough, but such demographic awareness is much less common than you might imagine and is a major roadblock for even the most well-intentioned healthcare entities.  Organizations that have earned NCQA Multicultural Health Care Distinction tell us the program provides a starting place, a key component in the industry-wide effort to eliminate disparities and expand access to quality care.

The Distinction at Work

Multicultural Health Care Distinction offers external validation that an organization is aligned with industry practices and is following evidence-based guidelines. The

program requires the collection of race/ethnicity and language data on patients and practitioners to improve language assistance and cultural responsiveness and reduce health care disparities.

This helps plans in many states meet health equity contracting requirements for many state payers, such as Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, which actively employs the Distinction as a tool to set quality priorities.

Health plans are also focused on how to set themselves up for success in addressing disparities.  AmeriHealth Caritas DC, for example, pursued Distinction because of its deep commitment to health equity

“We see addressing disparities and improving health equity as foundational to and inseparable from our mission to improve health outcomes,” says Karen Dale, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies and Market President for AmeriHealth Caritas DC.

“Our approach begins with the widely accepted principle that we should always try to first ‘meet people where they are.’ Communicating and providing services in a culturally competent and linguistically appropriate manner is the starting point on that journey, and we see the NCQA Multicultural Health Care  Distinction as a solid leading indicator that we are moving in the right direction.”

The plan provides transportation services, such as rideshare partnerships, and has mobilized internal resources for language support. In addition, it is studying stratified member data that includes race/ethnicity to determine who is at highest risk during the pandemic. This information helps it deliver tailored solutions, such as home-delivered meals for members who are unable to get to a grocery store.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The Distinction standards for data collection and improving culturally and linguistically appropriate services help states, plans and providers to understand where their patients might have gaps in access, services and language. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Brookings Institution, the age-adjusted death rate for Black people is 3.6 times higher than for Whites; for Hispanic/Latino people, it is 2.5 times higher. Racial inequities, such as reduced access to health care and greater prevalence of co-morbidities, mean that Black and Hispanic/Latino people may be more vulnerable to COVID-19.[1]

It will require a relentless effort on the part of the entire healthcare system to realize the goal of health equity.  NCQA is proud to play a role in this important cause through our Multicultural Healthcare Distinction program.

[1]https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/06/16/race-gaps-in-covid-19-deaths-are-even-bigger-than-they-appear/