Expanded Partnership, Funding Opportunities Help Michigan Schools Tackle Childhood Obesity

Second graders at Stambaugh Elementary in Iron River learn about nutrition and made vegetable soup after the school won a Building Healthy Communities grant for the 2011-2012 school year.

When what was once considered a health issue of mild concern explodes into a full-blown epidemic, it’s time to not just act fast, but to act big.

That was the thinking that moved Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan when we turned our attention in 2009 to taking on the issue of childhood obesity. Our first move was to begin the Building Healthy Communities grant program to provide schools across the state with the funds they needed to get kids moving, eating healthier and adopting healthy lifestyles.

Since then, we’ve impacted the lives of some 24,000 kids across Michigan with these grants.

Now we’re taking the program even bigger by forming a partnership with the Wayne State University Center for School Health in the College of Education and the Michigan Fitness Foundation to enhance physical activity and nutrition education in schools and provide culturally relevant information and resources. The expanded Building Healthy Communities partnership will also help school staff and youth leadership promote school transformation and provide family education where it’s most needed. The program also benefits from the expertise and unique resources of each partnering organization.

Last week, we again began accepting applications from schools interested in getting on board with Building Healthy Communities. Those schools receiving the grant awards will find themselves with an additional $30,000 to support their efforts to make a real difference in the lives of Michigan’s kids. Applications are due by March 30, 2012, and can be found here along with grant award program details.

By going bigger, the Blues are taking the program exactly where it needs to go, said Lynda Rossi, BCBSM’s senior vice president of Public Affairs and chief of staff.

“This allows us to take that program and make it bigger and broader, to touch more kids and leverage the strengths of our partners, Wayne State’s Center for School Health as well as the Michigan Fitness Foundation and all the wonderful work they do,” Rossi said.

Following the advice we’re giving the kids, the goal now becomes to stay active. Only by bringing in more partners and extending the program’s reach into more underserved communities, can we come close to making the impact we’re hoping for.

Public Television Report Featuring Blue Cross Examines Downtown Detroit Revitalization

A screen capture from the Nightly Business Report segment.

Public television program Nightly Business Report recently aired a story about how efforts to breathe life into downtown Detroit by attracting residents are reaping rewards for businesses and the local economy. The report featured interviews with Daniel J. Loepp, BCBSM’s president and CEO and the executive committee chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. He and others, including Blues employee Craig Steiner, spoke about Live Downtown, a program sponsored by Blue Cross, DTE Energy, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Quicken Loans and Compuware Corp. that offers financial incentives for employees to live where they work.

Watch the video on Downtown Detroit Revitalized by Businesses Relocating below:

BCBSM and St. John Providence Health System Partner to Help the Uninsured

Leaders from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and St. John Providence Health System got together recently to celebrate a new partnership to help the growing number of uninsured in southern Oakland County and the northwest border of Detroit. The Blues awarded a two-year $300,000 grant to St. John for its St. Vincent de Paul Health Center.

The Center is located in Southfield and serves uninsured adults who have incomes at 200 percent or below federal poverty levels.

“It’s more than just the money,” said Patricia Maryland, president and CEO of St. John Providence Health System. “This partnership with Blue Cross also helps us provide the human capacity to make a difference. We understand how many individuals suffer on a daily basis because they are not able to get access to the type of care they need.”

The Health Center patients are treated by the hospital’s volunteer doctors as part of the Physicians Who Care project. Patients are also eligible for free or discounted medications through the hospital’s outpatient pharmacy.

Dr. Michael Kobernick, medical director at the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center, says that means patients with chronic diseases and nowhere else to go are able to get the care they need.

“By offering uninsured people access to health services through the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center, we’re helping to prevent expensive trips to the emergency room by managing chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes, and providing an alternative source for acute care needs,” said Sue Barkell, the Blues vice president of Health Care Value. “This partnership between our organizations is really how we’re going to make a difference.”

The grant money will help St. Vincent de Paul Health Center do the following:

  • Increase capacity for primary care and specialty care
  • Reconfigure location to double the number of exam rooms (from two rooms to four)
  • Increase the number of patients enrolled
  • Increase focus on chronic disease management as measured by improved HEDIS scores for patients with diabetes
  • Explore implementation of electronic medical records to improve the quality and efficiency of care
  • Explore the usage of Telemedicine for specialty care visits
  • Help patients find transportation to offsite specialists

BCBSM also supports the safety net by providing $1 million in grants to free clinics throughout Michigan.

Why Paying Health Care Providers for Outcomes Benefits Everyone

There’s a movement among insurers policymakers and health care leaders about embracing pay-for-performance as a way to improve health care quality and lower costs. In recent weeks, Blue Cross has announced contracts based on this model of reimbursement with both Beaumont Health System and St. John Providence Health System. So what exactly will performance-based health care look like?

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan recently announced a partnership with St. John Providence to launch the first such model in the state. And last week we announced a similar contract with Beaumont, ending a long-running dispute that threatened to end the hospital system’s participation with Blue Care Network.

Our goal in both cases is to construct a better system of managing patient health, with hospitals, physicians and insurers working together to increase the value of medical care provided to patients. Hospitals, in turn, would see their reimbursements improve as a reward for more successful management of the health of their entire patient population.

This approach moves dramatically away from the long-established fee-for-service model where insurers pay for every test and procedure conducted on a patient, regardless of whether patient health improves because of them.

Fee-for-service is an antiquated approach. Reimbursements climb the more tests, procedures and other services are performed. The incentive for hospitals is to churn as much volume as possible through the facility — more patients, more tests, more surgeries, more admissions and more delays in the hospital. This model has fueled the huge increases in health care costs we’ve seen in the past decade, yet it’s done little to improve patient outcomes in the U.S., which lag behind other industrialized nations.


The new model encourages hospitals to move away from the quantity of services performed on patients in favor of quality of services. It also encourages physician organizations and hospitals to join forces and build better systems of sharing patient information and coordinating the delivery of care. Long-term, St. John Providence may well see lower utilization of things like high-tech radiation scans and even hospital admissions. But if more patients get healthier more quickly, their hospitals will benefit financially from incentive payments for achieving these goals — all of which are in the best interest of the patient.

Patients likely won’t notice any change in the quality of care they receive. If anything, they’ll encounter less frustration over redundant services and administrative headaches as the coordination of care improves.

While the details of the performance-based standards at Beaumont are pending, the Blues will support the funding of IT and other infrastructure improvements at the five participating St. John Providence hospitals until the new model begins in 2013. Some of the value-based improvements the hospitals must make include:

  • Development of a fully functioning integrated Organized System of Care all-patient registry system
  • Development of an integrated performance measurement system
  • Better coordinated processes of care so that patients have smooth transitions from their primary care physicians to specialists or hospitals
  • Capability to measure a patient’s experience with care

Patients will also notice an increase in attention from their providers. Clinical staff will be more prepared in advance for their visit, having pulled information on things like whether or not they’re up to date in immunizations or which medications they should or should not be taking. Doctors will be able to more proactively support their patients’ needs.

That leads to less redundancy, waste and time spent on administrative tasks for providers and hopefully, more time with patients.

It’s our hope that the agreements with the two Detroit-area health systems will help other hospitals realize that the performance-based model is both achievable and desirable for a better-functioning, lower-cost health care system. Many hospitals across Michigan are already expressing interest in joining us in moving to a performance-based system.

It’s been our experience through initiatives like our Patient-Centered Medical Home program that sustained efforts to improve the quality of care also helps put the brakes on runaway health care costs.

With more proactive patient care, better communication and improved coordination of care, there’s less waste in the health care system. And that benefits us all.

Thomas Simmer is Senior Vice President, Health Care Value and Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Another Downtown Detroit Office Building Scheduled for Renovation

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will give its Jefferson Avenue office building a 21st century facelift as part of ongoing efforts to create a collaborative, interactive corporate campus in downtown Detroit.

The company plans a comprehensive makeover of the first floor and entrance of the Jefferson Building, located at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Beaubien Street. The renovations will strengthen the building’s identity within the Blues’ downtown campus, enhance security and promote employee wellness and interaction.

“We see the Jefferson Building becoming the hub that unites our downtown Detroit campus,” said Tricia Keith, vice president, Corporate Secretary and Services. “While it will improve our visibility and create a more inviting street-level experience, it will also serve as a fun and functional place for employees to meet, learn and collaborate.”

Among the new features planned:

  • A storefront-style glass entrance along Jefferson meant to mirror the glass exterior of the Renaissance Center across the street, where the Blues also have offices
  • New exterior blue lighting
  • An outdoor café-style employee eating area
  • Modern collaboration spaces and conference rooms

A rendering of the new glass storefront-style entrance planned for the building.

  • Treadmill “Walkstations” where employees can walk and work at the same time
  • An interactive technology space staffed by Blues IT professionals who will provide servicing, support and opportunities for employees to test drive the latest technologies
  • A vending area with café seating
  • An activity area for relaxing during lunch breaks or after hours

The upgrades will add to recently completed improvements to the entrance of the Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600. The Blues are renovating office space in the two towers to relocate 3,000 employees from the suburbs.

Blue Cross originally purchased the building at 441 E. Jefferson in 1950, conducted extensive renovations — including adding two floors — and took occupancy in 1954. In 1979, the company gave it a modern glass facade and updated it with HVAC and electrical systems.

A rendering of the lobby after renovations.

“The attached parking structure was built in the mid ’90s and throughout the years we have made continuous improvements to the facility to keep it modern by replacing obsolete infrastructure and finishes,” said Ray Warner, director, Facility and Support Services.

Renovation work has already begun and is scheduled to wrap up in mid-2012.

Michigan’s Free Clinics Help Uninsured Manage Chronic Illness and Improve Health

Diabetes and high blood pressure are two chronic health conditions that need constant monitoring. Many of the uninsured who count on free clinics in Michigan have these types of serious health problems. Having a chronic health condition without access to health care services is a dangerous combination, often resulting in consequences that last a lifetime. For instance, diabetics that put off medical care or skip medications sometimes end up on permanent dialysis or lose a foot or a leg because of long-term uncontrolled sugar levels.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has a nonprofit mission to provide all Michigan residents with access to quality health care services, regardless of ability to pay. That’s why we are supporting free clinics across the state with more than $1 million in grant funding. The Blues have provided $7 million in grants since 2005 to help free clinics with daily operations and to enhance the services they provide.

Free clinics in Michigan provide many uninsured residents a valuable and rare opportunity to consult with doctors and nurses and learn how to manage their health conditions through medical and non-medical means. Helping them manage disease through regular patient visits, education and free medications reduces expensive emergency room visits and improves overall health.

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