Mayor Muriel Browser, CareFirst, a Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance company, and D.C. Appleseed, a nonprofit social service organization, joined in launching a $95 million Health Equity Fund to ensure all D.C. residents receive health care.
Announced on Nov. 4, the fund will distribute grants to applicants who plan to use the money to reduce disparities in health in D.C. or to tackle social and environmental problems that harm D.C. residents’ health. The fund will be overseen by a seven-member committee appointed by Browser and CareFirst.
“As we continue to transform our health care system and attack disparities in health outcomes, the $95 million Health Equity Fund will allow us to implement strategies specific to the needs of our communities,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement.
“This is a unique opportunity to double down on solutions that promote DC HOPE- health, opportunity, prosperity, and equity. This resolution has been a long time coming, and I want to think and congratulate all the parties who came together to move us forward into this next phase of building a healthier, more equitable D.C.,” she said.
The fund is a result of a settlement implemented to end a legal battle between CareFirst and the D.C. government that has been ongoing for 13 years. Despite being a nonprofit organization, CareFirst has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in funds. D.C. Appleseed called attention to the excess fund in 2004 and the District attorney general sued CareFirst in 2008.
The city claimed that CareFirst had not met the requirements for a nonprofit to benefit the public and initiated an ongoing fight over if CareFirst should spend the additional funds to benefit the D.C. community. Over the years, D.C. Appleseed has brought the case back to court on multiple appeals.
The fund was established for the District by CareFirst.
“We’re excited to partner with the District to make a significant and impactful investment that will help ensure District residents have equitable access to quality care,” CareFirst President and CEO Brian Pieninck said in a statement.
“We are proud to have worked with the Mayor, the Insurance Commissioner, and CareFirst to have settled this case; we are even more proud that the settlement will bring $95 million to address pressing health needs in the District,” Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed, said in a statement.
The committee will consider applicants that address the following: social and environmental issues that affect residents health care, health, and health equality of district residents, social determinants of health such as education, employment, income, housing, transportation, food, enrichment, medical care, and environment and community safety issues that have a positive impact on health care outcomes.
“The Health Equity Fund will provide much-needed resources in the wake of long-standing disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Health Equity Fund represents an initiative that will help change the future of health care delivery by supporting people’s whole health including physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” Pieninck said.
To ensure that CareFirst is not retaining extra funds, D.C. will review its surplus every now and then to make sure the company is transparent with money management.
“Those funds ensure that when global pandemics, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or other unanticipated events strike, CareFirst can continue to meet its financial obligations and provide the care that members need… it is essential that an insurance carrier maintain its surplus,” a CareFirst spokeswoman said.
Copy edited by Jasper Smith