BlueCross Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrea Willis has been selected as this year’s Champion of Health Care in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Medicine category. This category recognizes strides in advancing health equity in the local medical community.
“Throughout her career, Dr. Willis has helped transform areas of the health care system to bring better health to vulnerable populations,” says Scott Pierce, executive vice president and COO of BlueCross. “She brings this experience to her current role, helping address disparities and other barriers to meet the health needs of all Tennesseans.”
Before joining BlueCross, she was the first director of the State of Tennessee’s CoverKids program and developed Tennessee’s federally approved State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Later, as Tennessee Department of Health deputy commissioner, she created statewide initiatives to support Tennesseans in finding affordable health care providers.
A lifelong focus on service and a company that encourages this passion
In an interview for a feature story in Edge Magazine, Dr. Willis discusses her lifelong mission to focus on access and equity in medicine.
“I was raised with the mindset that you’re blessed to be a blessing to others,” Willis says. “I went into pediatrics so I could be a role model to children, get to them before the world imposes so many things on them.”
Dr. Willis also explains how her role at BlueCross has encouraged her to continue that work.
“The fact that this company treasures [diversity, equity and inclusion] has made it an even better fit,” she says. “The leaders of this company told me, ‘Use this platform to advance the things that are important to you.’”
How social factors affect health outcomes
Health disparities are differences in health status between populations. When it comes to health, we generally focus on factors like what we eat, how often we exercise and the genetics we inherit – but those aren’t the only aspects affecting health status.
Social determinants also affect health outcomes. These are the different conditions where people are born, grow, live, work, play, worship and age and can be seen in a number of ways including education opportunities, safe housing, access to health care and healthy foods, income, among others.
Simply put, this means some people could be at higher risk for certain health issue simply because of where they’re born.
Why health equity matters
These social determinants can put some individuals and communities at a disadvantage that can last for generations. But these disparities can affect everyone indirectly. Persistent gaps in health outcomes have economic consequences, but data shows fewer social vulnerabilities mean a lower cost of health care and a positive overall health impact.
More importantly, when people are healthier and experience less stress from financial burden, they can enjoy a better quality of life – which is good for everyone.
A growing legacy of work to advance health equity
- Creating scholarships for Tennessee students in the health care field (2013)
- Elevating social determinants and disparities into the health care discussion (2016)
- Sharing how health disparities affect the COVID-19 impact (2020)
- Advocating for our communities to expand access to health care (2020)
- Partnering with Meharry College to address health disparities by understanding social vulnerabilities (2021)
- Funding local efforts to get vulnerable communities vaccinated (2021)
- Joining organizations nationwide to collaborate around social determinants of health (2021)
Get to know the Champions of Health Care program and 2021 honorees
The Champions of Health Care program was created by the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2016 to recognize those working to improve the health of the Chattanooga region. For the second year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put award honorees at the center of this public health crisis.