Highmark Inc. Recognized by National Committee for Quality Assurance for Efforts to Reduce Health Care Disparities

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 General News
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PITTSBURGH, Sept. 23 By significantly increasing access toexercise programs and expanding its network of participating locations,Highmark Inc. saw membership by African American members in theSilverSneakers(R) Fitness Program grow from 3.4 percent in 2004 to more than18 percent in 2008. For its efforts, Highmark was awarded the "RecognizingInnovation in Multicultural Health Care Award" by the National Committee forQuality Assurance (NCQA).

For more than four years, Highmark has partnered with the SilverSneakersFitness Program, the nation's leading exercise program for older adults, tooffer an opportunity for seniors to participate, at no additional cost, infitness activities and to improve their overall health. To date, more than68,000 Highmark members have enrolled in SilverSneakers.

"Research has shown that consistent exercise is a key component of ahealthy lifestyle for people from all demographics," said Judith Black, MD,medical director of Senior Products at Highmark Inc. "An initial analysis ofSilverSneakers Fitness Program enrollment rates by Highmark Medicare Advantagemembers in 2004 identified a significant disparity in enrollment betweenAfrican American and White members. It was imperative for Highmark to addressthe enrollment disparity and provide access to fitness programs for our seniormembers."

To increase enrollment rates among African American members, sixSilverSneakers participating locations were added to the existing network.These centers were located in predominantly minority neighborhoods that wereidentified as having high concentrations of African American Highmark members:HealthStar Physical Therapy, Penn Hills YMCA, Aliquippa Community Hospital,Homewood-Brushton YMCA, Centre Avenue YMCA (in partnership with the Hill HouseAssociation), and the Sarah Heinz House.

In addition, to more fully engage potential program participants,Healthways, the parent company of SilverSneakers, revised its marketingmaterials to include more diverse images and incorporate a theme of "fitness,fun and friends." SilverSneakers also helped to increase the number ofqualified instructors from diverse backgrounds, an important step in buildingrelationships and increasing participation among the African American Highmarkmembership.

In the fall of 2007, Highmark and SilverSneakers partnered to offer aseries of flu vaccine clinics at locations in minority neighborhoods. Whilethe primary goal of these clinics was to increase the vaccination rate withinthe minority membership, the clinics were located at SilverSneakers sites inpredominantly African American neighborhoods in order to increase awareness ofthe available fitness benefit to that particular population.

With the addition of the new participating locations and other outreachefforts, enrollment by African American members increased from 3.4 percent inJuly 2004 to 9.6 percent in February 2005 and 18.1 percent in March 2008. Thisrate is a four-fold increase over the enrollment rate for 2004. In addition,the March 2008 African American enrollment rate of 18.1 percent exceeded theenrollment rate of 17.5 percent for white members in the same time frame.

"Like many seniors, I do have hypertension and it's totally under control.I credit the combination of exercise and the medication I take," said AnnKenderson, Highmark Medicare Advantage member, who is a SilverSneakersparticipant at the Kingsley Community Center. "Plus, my exercise routine hasdefinitely helped me to control my weight and my stress. I am so thankful thatHighmark understands the value of keeping me healthy by providing such aterrific fitness benefit."

Highmark was recognized at a ceremony in San Francisco, CA, on Sept. 18.The award, sponsored by The California Endowment with support from the Centersfor Medicare & Medicaid Services and The Office of Minority Health, is part ofNCQA's efforts to i

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