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Blue Cross®️ and Be The Match®️: expanding health equity

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota® and Be The Match® are collaborating to expand racial and health equity in Minnesota.

Every year, thousands of patients are diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukemia or lymphoma. For those cancers and over 75 other blood diseases, such as sickle cell, a cure exists in a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant. However, only 30% of patients have a suitable donor within their families. The rest must rely on the Be The Match Registry® to find a fully matched, unrelated donor

For Mikayla, a Minnesota teen diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth, a blood stem cell transplant could be her cure, eliminating the pain, medications and frequent hospitalizations she faces now. 

“When the doctors said I wouldn’t have to take medication anymore and I’d feel better, I was happy. I wanted to get started on the process,” shared Mikayla.

Unfortunately, like many of the inequities that persist around our health, not all patients have an equal chance of finding a match. We know that patients are most likely to match with a donor who shares their same ethnic background, but the current makeup of the registry is overwhelmingly white. This means patients of diverse ethnic backgrounds are less likely to find a donor match. For example, Black patients only have a 29% chance of finding a matching donor on the registry, compared to a 79% chance for White patients. 

Blue Cross and Be The Match are working together with the aim of eliminating such inequities. Be The Match acknowledges that such inequities have resulted from historical and contemporary systemic racism and injustices, especially from a medical standpoint, which have led to distrust of health care organizations. 

Discrimination, racism and bias play a major role in health outcomes and levels of trust in health care for many communities today. “Rebuilding trust and prioritizing the needs of those most impacted by health inequities starts with listening to Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and communities of color and being accountable for creating change. It also requires us to acknowledge our own role in maintaining the status quo and committing to do better,” said Bukata Hayes, Vice President of Racial and Health Equity at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

“Many people don’t know that ethnicity is a factor in finding a matching donor,” said Erica Jensen, Senior Vice President of Member Engagement, Enrollment and Experience at Be The Match. “Our collaboration with Blue Cross will provide us the opportunity to increase awareness of the existing disparity and further expand our presence in underrepresented communities to improve the diversity of the national blood stem cell and marrow registry.”

To help accomplish this important work, Be The Match

  • Hired a recruitment assistant focused on outreach to ethnically diverse communities in Minnesota
  • Created new resources to educate ethnically diverse individuals about the importance of joining the registry
  • Will attend various events within predominantly Black communities to spread awareness of our mission and diversify the registry

At a Juneteenth event in Minneapolis, several Be The Match employees and volunteers were able to foster new community relationships, answer questions about the donation process, build trust and connections for the future, as well as offer individuals the opportunity to join the registry through a simple cheek swab onsite. 

Blue Cross and Be The Match believe that all patients—regardless of background—should have the same access to a second chance at life. By growing and diversifying the registry, patients like Mikayla will have a better chance of finding their ideal match.