UnitedHealthcare’s Mid-Atlantic region addresses health disparities through its ‘Supporting Underserved Communities’ initiative

The initiative aims to address racial, ethnic, gender, geographic and educational disparities in health care for members in the Mid-Atlantic region.

November 22, 2021

Joe Ochipinti, CEO of the Mid-Atlantic Region and the Mid-Atlantic Health Plan, partnered with the Public Sector and Labor segment to support underserved communities and bring together a cross-section of UnitedHealthcare and Optum leadership to increase the organization’s connection within underserved communities throughout the region. 

The “Supporting Underserved Communities” initiative’s goal is to positively impact racial, ethnic, gender, geographic and educational disparities in health care and to deliver societal return through the deployment of products and programs that improve health and reinforce the company’s presence as a philanthropic partner within these communities.

With a geographical focus on Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the area's concentration of underserved communities, the team of UnitedHealthcare and Optum leadership nurtured established relationships to get this initiative off the ground. A series of four focus groups took place to build consensus around project scope. Each included:

  • Elected officials, appointed, community, public health leaders and faith-based organizations;
  • Business owners and not-for-profits;
  • Brokers, consultants, distribution channel partners and health care providers.

The focus groups had very specific learning goals, including:

  • Identify consistent issues impacting health equity.
  • Understand community leaders’ perceptions of UnitedHealthcare’s reputation regarding efforts to provide products and programs for racial/ethnic minorities and communities with lower socioeconomic status.
  • Identify strategies to increase UnitedHealthcare’s presence within diverse racial/ethnic minority communities and in communities with lower socioeconomic status.
  • Generate ideas for programs that UnitedHealthcare could implement to improve health equity and reduce health care disparities for racial/ethnic minorities and communities with low socioeconomic status.
  • Determine ways to reinforce UnitedHealthcare’s presence as a philanthropic and trusted community partner.

The focus groups’ key findings showed there is a need to:

  • Address the social determinants of health, specifically access to healthy foods and transportation.
  • Improve health care access by making it more affordable and accessible to underserved communities.
  • Help people manage chronic diseases by providing medically necessary chronic disease management tools for free or subsidized cost (i.e., managing blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma).
  • Increase the public’s awareness about nutrition, physical activity, and behavioral modification techniques. Participants noted that programs should target children so that they could serve as agents of change within their households.

For more than two decades, UnitedHealthcare has led efforts to identify, address and monitor health disparities and health equity to advance our mission to help people live healthier lives and make the health system work better for everyone, by partnering with like-minded organizations dedicated to health and wellness for all.

The broad range of disparities, across multiple factors, is indicative of the work ahead to achieve more equitable health outcomes.

COVID-19 has shown the world that the rates of disease, complications, and death are higher for people of color and underserved communities. Diabetes, hypertension, maternal mortalities, cancer, and other diseases impact African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans at higher rates. The “Supporting Underserved Communities” initiative helps people get the resources they need for everyday living.

Based on the focus group feedback, the team has proactively worked with local representatives to support those high priority needs and determine how UnitedHealthcare can add value. The next steps involve continuing to identify potential partnering organizations that allow UnitedHealthcare to add on supportive elements aligning with one of its core priorities. Depending on the services needed, UnitedHealthcare may utilize local staff and members of the community to collaborate and build trust.

Across UnitedHealthcare, leaders and teams are coming together and acting with urgency to serve the needs of historically underserved and under-resourced minority communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, while also addressing the fundamental underlying factors that contribute to health inequity in our society. By bringing our collective expertise, capabilities, and dedication to these communities at a moment of great need, we believe UnitedHealthcare can be a catalyst for large-scale, systemic change across the health system.