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Addressing Unique Needs


Health New England is the sixth health plan in the country to earn the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Health Equity Certification for Medicare, and the first in Massachusetts to earn the recognition for both its Medicare and commercial health plans.

Health New England received this certification for its Medicaid, Medicare, and commercial plans by demonstrating exceptional efforts in reducing health disparities and addressing the unique needs of diverse populations.

To earn NCQA Health Equity Certification, health plans must build an internal culture that supports health-equity work; collect and assess data to help create and offer culturally humble care, including language services; ensure that its provider networks are delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate care to meet individuals’ diverse needs; and identify and act on opportunities to reduce health inequities and improve care.

Richard Swift

Richard Swift

“We are committed to continually improving our efforts to reduce health disparities, eliminate barriers to care, and ensure equitable access to healthcare services for all.”

“At Health New England, we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their best possible health. Receiving Health Equity Certification from NCQA underscores our commitment to advancing health equity for our members and the communities we serve,” said Richard Swift, president and CEO of Health New England. “This achievement reflects the hard work and dedication of our entire team, as well as our ongoing collaboration with healthcare providers, community organizations, and members. We are committed to continually improving our efforts to reduce health disparities, eliminate barriers to care, and ensure equitable access to healthcare services for all.”

NCQA President Margaret O’Kane noted that “the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities has been a barrier to improving the quality of healthcare of many Americans for too long. Organizations achieving Health Equity accreditation are leaders in closing this gap, and NCQA commends them for their dedication.”

NCQA Health Equity Certification debuted in late 2021. Massachusetts will require health plans to obtain the certification for their Medicaid (MassHealth) plans by 2025. To ensure equity for all members, Health New England led an organization-wide strategy to achieve the certification for all plans.

“We believe that all customers deserve fair and equitable access to care and services no matter what type of health plan they have,” said Shelly McCombs, Quality and Accreditation manager for Health New England. “We are not just looking at whether people have physical health problems like diabetes. We are looking at the social determinants of health — the societal factors that affect people’s ability to be well, such as housing, healthy-food access, the availability of good jobs and childcare, and more. These are all factors that impact people’s ability to focus on their well-being.”

Such health-equity practices have had real-world outcomes. For example, Health New England worked to develop a program through its BeHealthy Partnership Plan with Revitalize Community Development Corp. and Baystate Health. Health New England identified the need to address social determinants of health to help diabetic members access healthy food. Members enrolled in the program receive a cooking appliance of their choice (microwave, slow cooker, or induction cooktop); a kitchen-supply bag; diet education; and 10 weeks of home-delivered, nutritious groceries specially curated for people with diabetes by registered dietitians. The groceries are culturally tailored and feature foods that promote a carbohydrate-controlled, therapeutic diet.

Health New England has made an organization-wide commitment to health equity, McCombs said, and continues to work with the healthcare practitioners in its network, community organizations, and other stakeholders to provide culturally humble care, identify health inequities, and bridge gaps. NCQA Health Equity Certification has helped Health New England earn a four-star overall health-plan rating from NCQA for commercial and Medicaid plans.