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Reimagining Health in the Time of COVID-19

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has put a spotlight on the need for innovation and transformation in health care. Peter Long, Senior Vice President of Healthcare and Community Health Transformation, shares how Blue Shield of California is putting people at the center of its ambitious plan to reimagine health. From holistic health to personal care to high-tech support, learn how they are prioritizing patients, empowering providers, and engaging in communities to help relieve the strain of today's pandemic, while building a bridge to tomorrow's better health system.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been one of the most turbulent and trying times for people around the world, the crisis has helped to put a spotlight on the need for innovations in health care that are already being piloted by Blue Shield of California’s Health Reimagined initiative.

Health Reimagined is Blue Shield of California’s ambitious plan to transform our healthcare system with innovative ideas that we believe will support health care that is worthy of our family and friends and sustainably affordable. And we believe that is possible when you put people at the center; empower care providers with cutting-edge technologies so they can focus on patient care, not administration; and engage in communities to address social determinants of health to improve individual and community health.

We are reimagining health in three main categories: holistic health, personal care, and high-tech, high-touch support. Holistic health is reflected in the ways we are helping people live their healthiest lives by connecting them to essential community services. Our vision for personal care is to create care models that prioritize the patient, and reward medical providers for quality health outcomes. High-tech, high-touch support uses technology to put patients first and help doctors focus on their patients instead of getting bogged down by bureaucracy and paperwork.

Blue Shield’s Health Reimagined initiative is making a positive impact to provide relief to communities across California during the pandemic. They include:

  • Virtual healthcare services: In collaboration with Paradise Medical Group (PMG), Blue Shield had already built PMG Connect in the aftermath of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise. This virtual care platform allows PMG physicians to care for their patients virtually in a safe, effective way, a much-needed resource during the pandemic.

  • Real-time claims initiative: This pilot program results in more immediate reimbursements to providers, including patients’ portion of the medical bills. This program now provides increased cash-flow upfront to financially support our providers as they experience lower practice utilization. Blue Shield is now more rapidly making this service available to providers statewide.

  • New funding programs to help alleviate the financial burden of COVID-19 for our providers: We are offering advance payments to select medical groups to help them sustain their practices. This program invites recipients to participate in core Health Reimagined strategies, including new value-based payment contracts, shared decision-making, implementation of real-time clinical and data exchange processes, and adoption of practice transformation enablers, such as virtual assistant and virtual care. We are proud to be part of the solution for these vulnerable practices.

As we grapple with the pandemic, Blue Shield is always looking for ways to support our members, providers and communities at large. Accordingly, we have provided the following additional support since March:

  • $350,000 from Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan to support Medi-Cal members and providers during the COVID-19 crisis. Recipients included community-based organizations engaged in: meal distribution to school-aged children, seniors and high-risk members isolated at home; domestic violence prevention support; and community solution response efforts.

  • Cost coverage for virtual care services (medical and behavioral) provided by Teladoc Health through December 31, 2020.

  • 3,500 personal protective equipment (PPEs), such as face masks, gowns and sanitizers to seven clinics that primarily serve Blue Shield Promise Health Plan Medi-Cal beneficiaries in the Los Angeles area. The supplies were donated as many medical providers face both financial strain during the public health crisis and greater difficulty finding PPEs for purchase at reasonable prices.

  • Financial support for members battling COVID-19 by extending its commitment to waive co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles for treatment of COVID-19 through December 31, 2020.

  • $100,000 in grants from Blue Shield Promise Health Plan to distribute food this summer to support the health needs of thousands of individuals and families in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. The support to 10 community-based organizations came at a crucial time during the COVID-19 crisis as schools and other community support programs closed during the summer months.

  • Development of a new digital tool with San Francisco-based company GYANT to help hospitals triage the influx of patients seeking advice on COVID-19 or other medical care.


  • Bank of America provided Blue Shield of California a $50 million line of credit to provide support to healthcare providers and hospitals dealing with economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. The available funds will be distributed by Blue Shield of California and help fund the advanced payments program for providers in need.

  • Blue Shield of California Foundation provided $6.8 million in grants to communities affected by the COVID-19.

  • Blue Shield leaders have played critical roles with state officials, academics, and business leaders in helping the state expand its testing capabilities, which is an essential element to end safer-at-home policy.

These are just a few examples of how we’re helping to relieve the strain while we build a bridge to a better health system. While these shorter-term responses have been critical, they must be coupled with platforms and solutions to change personal care, high-tech high-touch support, and address holistic health. Specifically, we are developing a holistic health platform that brings together data sources to inform communities about social determinants of health and local resources available to them. Virtual services, including virtual consults, virtual transcription, and virtual assistant are helping to relieve provider administrative responsibilities and restore joy in practice. Our shared decision-making program and innovative payment models support better health outcomes, rather than services provided.

We believe it’s time to reimagine health. We’re working to bring Health Reimagined to life by designing better ways for people to receive care. This is at the heart of all our efforts. We are driven by our nonprofit mission: providing everyone access to high-quality, affordable care. And we believe that is possible when we innovate and transform our healthcare system. It starts with Health Reimagined, our plan for the future, underway today.

About the Author:

As Blue Shield of California's Senior Vice President of Healthcare and Community Health Transformation, Peter Long, Ph. D. leads collaborations with healthcare providers, community leaders, and other stakeholders at Blue Shield of California to design innovative clinical and community programs, and healthcare delivery and payment systems that provide all Californians access to value-based, high-quality, and affordable care. Previously, Peter was president and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, focusing on building lasting and equitable solutions to make California the healthiest state and end domestic violence. He helped launch the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative in 15 communities in partnership with California Department of Public Health and other philanthropies. In partnership with the Center for Care Innovations, the Foundation supported successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act among the safety-net providers for Californians who had been excluded from health care. Peter also serves an adjunct professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Want to learn more?

RSVP to join Peter Long on Wednesday, September 2 (3:00-3:45 pm ET) for our next 20/20 conversation- Designing a Healthier Future: By the People, For the People. He'll be joined by two other champions of health care transformation, Elexis Trinity of Marnita's Table and Amelia Hardy of Best Buy, for an interesting look at the way robust research and community collaboration are being used to develop innovative strategies for building a more equitable health system. Presented by: Blue Shield of California

The views and opinions of the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Aspen Institute.

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