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Health Insurance Group Forms Academic Research Network

Pills and dollar bill


3 November 2016. The national organization of Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurance providers is linking up with academic researchers to study outcomes of health care practices, including opioid abuse and cancer screenings. Financial aspects of the first studies announced today by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Alliance for Health Research were not disclosed.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, based in Chicago, is a federation of 36 independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies in local communities in the U.S. that the group says covers some 106 million members, or about 1 in 3 Americans. Researchers in medicine and health care policy or economics taking part in the network will have access to the association’s databases of de-identified commercial insurance claims, medical professionals, and cost of care information.

In addition to making available its databases, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is also supporting original studies of health care practices and outcomes, including those affecting key public policy issues. Among the first studies is an analysis of variations across providers in use of opioids and related consequences by Michael Chernew, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Chernew is also expected to investigate patterns of pain management and choice of opioids compared to alternative therapies, as well as assess the impact of various policies and programs on opioid use. A related study by health care policy professor Nicole Maestas, a Harvard Medical School colleague, will review opioid pain treatments and their effects on outcomes such as disability and employment among middle-aged and older Americans.

Cary Gross, a professor of medicine at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is exploring the evolution of cancer screening options during the past decade, particularly their economic and clinical effects over this period. Gross plans to investigate costs of screening, geographic and demographic variations in their use, and impacts on cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survival.

A study by faculty at Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California is examining use of biologic therapies, drugs derived from biological sources, such as vaccines and insulin. Nathan Wineinger, biostatistics director at Scripps Institute and Steven Steinhubl, director of digital medicine, are expected to analyze variations in biologics use across geographic regions and over time, seeking out trends that affect health outcomes.

The alliance recruited seven other leading academic researchers to participate from the fields of medicine, health economics, informatics, and public health. “The purpose of the Alliance,” says Maureen Sullivan, chief strategy and innovation officer in an association statement, “is to leverage the breadth of BCBS data to enable richer analytics, sharper insights, and smarter solutions for improving health care quality and affordability.”

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