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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas Supports Launch of New Rural Health Project with Texas A&M University

Nov. 13, 2018

BCBSTX plan president Dr. Dan McCoy with Texas A&M University's Health Science Center executives

Joint project to identify and implement solutions to mitigate healthcare challenges in Texas' rural communities

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) and Texas A&M University Health Science Center (TAMHSC) today announced a new project to support collaborative care and healthy communities that will target identifying and implementing solutions to healthcare challenges facing rural and underserved communities in Texas. BCBSTX's commitment of $10 million to TAMHSC is part of the company's Affordability Cures endeavor aimed at accelerating efforts to reduce healthcare costs and improve outcomes, including by addressing health disparities and social determinants of health.

The project will support the mutual goals of TAMHSC and BCBSTX to improve access to healthcare and reduce disparities in health status and outcomes in rural communities.

"The research and innovative care delivery strategies that emanate from this collaboration with Texas A&M Health Science Center have potential to not only help rural communities in Texas, but across the nation," said Dr. Dan McCoy, president of BCBSTX. "As someone who grew up in a small town in Texas, I understand and appreciate both the challenges and the healthcare needs of those in rural communities."

"We applaud the work already accomplished at Texas A&M Health Science Center," McCoy continued. "But we also realize there is still work to do in providing access to healthcare and creating a sustainable financial and service model for rural healthcare providers. Our funding will help support the incubation of fresh ideas for providing sustained access to quality, cost-effective health care in rural communities across Texas."

Texas A&M University was founded as a land-grant institution under the Morrill Act with a mission of helping underserved populations. Today, the Health Science Center—which was formed in 1999 to bring together the health-related disciplines of Texas A&M, continues its land-grant service tradition, placing emphasis on the health needs of those who live in rural areas.

"True to our land-grant designation, we have the responsibility to improve health care and health care delivery to rural areas with forward-thinking research and service," said Carrie L. Byington, MD, vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System, senior vice president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. "Support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, combined with the rich expertise and strong sense of selfless service embodied in faculty and staff across the university, will allow our organizations to collectively improve the health of all Texans."

The joint project will bring together the expertise of more than 20 cross-disciplinary researchers across eight colleges at Texas A&M University—the Health Science Center's colleges of dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health, along with the colleges of agriculture, education and engineering. Focus areas of the project will include: ambulatory rural care delivery systems, rural hospital function and future, community empowerment, and technology and health information.

A flagship of the project will be the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, led by Nancy Dickey, MD, president emeritus of the Texas A&M Health Science Center. Since it was created 15 years ago, the institute has been identifying the challenges facing small hospitals and creating solutions for how health care can remain in the affected community.

Recently, the center was chosen as the sole recipient of a five-year grant from the Vulnerable Rural Hospitals Assistance Program, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant will fund the creation of the Center for Optimizing Rural Health, a technical advisory center for the nation, to actively help rural communities maintain their hospital or create other means of access to care after hospitals close.

A report, "What's Next? Practical Suggestions for Rural Communities", conducted last year by the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute and the Episcopal Health Foundation, is instructive in detailing some of the healthcare challenges facing Texas' rural communities, such as:

  • 35 counties have no physician
  • 80 counties have five or fewer physicians
  • 58 Texas counties…have no general surgeon
  • 147 Texas counties…people have no obstetrician/gynecologist
  • 185 Texas counties…have no psychiatrist

The funding to the A&M Rural and Community Health Institute was one of four grants recently awarded to the Health Science Center by HRSA—combined totaling more than $7 million—to address health care in rural and underserved communities.

"Rural health care needs moonshots. That's what we're doing with this collaborative project between two entities with similar missions," said Steven Brown, MD, associate vice president of clinical strategy at Texas A&M Health Science Center. "By combining our expertise, we can create actionable insights to improve health care access, quality and delivery across the state, nation and world."