HomeInnovators: Call for Prize Winning Ways to Reduce Unequal Healthcare Access

Innovators: Call for Prize Winning Ways to Reduce Unequal Healthcare Access

Of the multiple factors that contribute to someone’s overall health, many are outside of the doctor’s office or a hospital. How we eat, sleep, work, and even spend our leisure time affects our health and can contribute to the appearance or worsening of health issues, conditions or illnesses. Some of these could have been prevented by a better quality of life and better access to healthcare.

What is the challenge BCBSIL and MATTER launch?

The majority of these factors depend more on the social environment than on the individual; this is why Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) thought it was time to do something to change the rules of the game, by ensuring better access to healthcare.

BCBSIL is issuing a nationwide Health Equity Innovation Challenge – seeking creative prize winning solutions to address the social determinants of health.

The main goal is to help BCBSIL members overcome barriers to healthcare, be those of a social, cultural and/or economic nature. Quality healthcare for more people is an ambitious goal, and other Illinois players are also making efforts in that respect.

Advancing health equity is the challenge BCBSIL and MATTER are presenting to researchers, entrepreneurs, innovators and anyone with creative ideas, who can develop new solutions that are expected to achieve that goal.

What is health equity?

Health equity doesn’t mean equality. If equality tends to treat everyone the same, no matter the outcome, equity focuses more on achieving an equal outcome.

The principle is that every person deserves to be as healthy as possible, so the aim is to reduce and, if possible, eliminate disparities in health by smoothing differences between social environments. Equity takes into consideration people’s different histories, challenges and needs. Background, quality of life, health risks, everything is taken into account.

“We know that so many factors that contribute to one’s overall health are outside of clinical settings like a doctor’s office or a hospital. Social factors such as income, education, housing, discrimination, access to transportation and violence are keeping people from being their healthiest selves,” says Dr. Derek Robinson, Chief Medical Officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “We’re committed to making a difference in the social determinants of health and this challenge is our way of bringing in the innovators – the out-of-the box thinkers – who can help us make health equity a reality for our members and our communities.”

How do social factors influence health?

Social conditions are very different and they determine some repercussions on a person’s health. Numbers don’t lie, and they support this idea.    

  • In Chicago’s Loop, the average life expectancy is 85 years. In West Garfield Park, that average goes down to less than 69 years.
  • Food insecurity makes people 50% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Infant mortality rate and overall death rate are almost twice as high in people with lower education than in those with at least one year of college.
  • Poor housing, unsafe surroundings and/or limited access to sidewalks, parks and recreation centers increase by 20-60 percent the odds of a child living such areas to  be obese or overweight.

There is some money in the game for the three top contestants

To fuel this challenge, $30,000 will be awarded – split amongst the top three submissions.

Submit your solution, a 3-minute video pitch, by November 12, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. CT, for a chance to win up to $15,000 and an opportunity to pilot your solution with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, and work closely with the insurer to develop your concept. On December 3rd, the finalists will participate in a live pitch event at MATTER in Chicago and the winners will be announced.

This challenge is open to all creative ideas and solutions. University researchers, students, entrepreneurs and existing startups of all stages are welcome to apply.

The three winning teams will each receive a cash prize and a six-month membership at MATTER.

  • 1st place: $15,000
  • 2nd place: $10,000
  • 3rd place: $5,000

The Health Equity Challenge is a part of a broader effort

BCBSIL is making efforts to reduce problems that are keeping healthcare prohibitive for many people, and the Health Equity Challenge is part of those. In Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Montana, BCBSIL and Blue plans have launched Affordability Cures. The program is going to expand over three years and will amount to $1.5 billion, the aim being to support new and existing efforts to reduce healthcare costs.

“There’s a big opportunity for entrepreneurs to help reduce disparities in health and healthcare,” MATTER CEO Steven Collens said. “We’re pleased to see BCBSIL take a leading role in advancing health equity and we look forward to seeing what creative ideas result from their collaboration with the healthcare innovation community.”

“We’re looking for real-world solutions to problems that impact many of our members, whether they have insurance through their employer, a government program, or if they purchase insurance for themselves,” says Maurice Smith, President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. “We are committed to expanding access to quality health care to as many people in Illinois as possible.”

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) is committed to expanding access to quality, cost-effective health care to as many people as possible in Illinois. BCBSIL is dedicated to innovation and exploring, nurturing and activating future possibilities to make the healthcare system work better for its members and their communities. BCBSIL is a division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company and an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Learn more at bcbsil.com and follow @BCBSIL on twitter and @bluecrossblueshieldofillinois on Facebook.


MATTER, the premier healthcare incubator and innovation hub, includes 200 cutting-edge startups from around the world, working together with hospitals and health systems, universities and industry-leading companies to build the future of healthcare. Together, the MATTER community is accelerating innovation, advancing care and improving lives.


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