Collaborating with vendors to uphold health equity standards

Health equity is defined as “the state in which everyone has a fair opportunity to attain their highest level of health.”1 The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Health Equity Accreditation program aims to provide a framework for health organizations to advance health equity standards and eliminate preventable disparities in care. The standards required for accreditation highlight measures of organizational diversity, equity, inclusion and reducing bias, data collection and use, and strategies to reduce health inequities.2

Committed to upholding NCQA standards of equity, UnitedHealthcare Community & State’s Clinical Strategy and Population Health team developed the Clinical Partner Health Equity Assessment Tool. The purpose of this tool is to assess clinical vendors on the maturity of their health equity advancement activities through a 10-question survey. Survey results produce a composite health equity score that is used as a key performance indicator evaluated annually.

Laura Kalies, Associate Director of Virtual Health & Strategic Partnerships, explains, “We want to make sure our vendors are on the same page with us. We want to make sure they’re addressing members’ needs whether it's regarding language resources, diversity representation, health issues or addressing disparity challenges.”

Phase 1 of the tool began in 2020 with a five-question survey that initiated conversation around health equity standards for vendors as well as health equity vendor support offered by UnitedHealthcare. Respondents received a ranking of “high”, “medium” or “low” regarding their readiness to address health disparities.

Phase 2 was rolled out in 2022 with a survey that was revamped to improve vendor assessment. The new tool consists of 10 questions and includes:

  • Five levers of action aligned to NCQA and national Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards. Vendors are asked about their current activities and progress in the following categories:
    • 1. Diverse representation in leadership and staff
    • 2. Disparity-focused engagement and services
    • 3. Equitable and inclusive organizational policies
    • 4. Collection and use of data to advance equity
    • 5. Equitable results in clinical outcomes
  • Updated rankings and definitions representing different stages of an organization’s health equity journey
    • New rankings consist of “Very high”, “high”, “medium”, “low” and “very low”

Potential UnitedHealthcare vendors are expected to score “high” or “very high” on the assessment prior to selection. Current vendors who receive a score of “medium” or less are required to collaborate with UnitedHealthcare on an improvement plan. While evaluation of Phase 2 results is ongoing, the majority of rankings are currently “medium” to “high”.

Laura comments, “UnitedHealthcare Community & State continues to be on the leading edge in assessing the health equity standards of its vendors. All of our vendors have been really supportive, and they're excited to work on this initiative.”

Read more about how UnitedHealthcare Community & State strives to uphold health equity standards across its practices. 

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