Even more prevalent than pediatric diabetes and obesity, asthma remains the leading chronic illness in children in the U.S. today. According to the Centers For Disease Control, 6.3 million children and teenagers nationwide are currently grappling with the incurable respiratory disease that hampers breathing, making them more likely to miss school, be rushed to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital. Childhood asthma patients also often miss out on sports and other life-enriching activities due to the illness.
That’s why Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) is stepping in to help children who suffer from asthma breathe easier. The Chicago-based independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS)— and also the largest customer-owned health insurance company in the U.S. — has partnered with the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest (ALAUM) to enhance the quality of care delivered to pediatric asthma patients in Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
As part of a joint “Enhancing Care for Children with Asthma” project, the two organizations have worked closely together since 2012 to roll out community-based healthcare clinic initiatives that continue to improve the health outcomes of pediatric asthma sufferers through a host of ongoing training and awareness efforts.
Chicago high school student and asthma patient Troyanna Anderson is one of many children to benefit from the special initiative.
“Before the asthma program, my asthma was really horrible and I used to be in the hospital a lot … like every month” Anderson — who was often absent from school as a result of asthma-related breathing difficulties triggered by poor weather and physical activity during cheerleading practices — said in the video above.
The groundbreaking initiative, named the 2016 “Best Health and Wellness Program,” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center, assisted an estimated 350,000 children like Anderson during its first three years. Additionally, approximately 36,000 health care and school professionals, as well as parents of children with asthma, were reached through the program’s educational efforts at 120 clinics in all.
HCSC leveraged its medical claims data to hone in on neighborhoods with the highest rates of hospitalization and emergency care for asthma patients, then rolled out monthly training and mentoring at clinics and schools in those areas with the help of ALAUM.
“These clinics have embraced this program and conveyed to us that we are truly seen as a partner, rather than simply a payer in the community,” Bridget Burke, HCSC’s director of public affairs, tells Free Enterprise. “The learnings of this program have been contagious, as clinics use this framework to create change and establish ideal chronic care models and implement improvements.”
Participating clinics received various respiratory diagnostics devices, such as Niox FeNO testing equipment, to help nurses and other medical professionals better measure airway inflammation in asthma patients. Pediatric program participants also received asthma care and symptom management tips via “Asthma 101” training.
“I was able to learn how to properly take medication and understand what it was doing to me,” Anderson says. “I was also able to get a good understanding of what my asthma was and how it works…I feel like it’s been rewarding to me because I know what’s going on and how to handle myself before I end up going to the hospital.”
Initial results from 28 clinic locations in Illinois and New Mexico that took part in the first two years of the pioneering program showed decreases in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, not only improving patient outcomes but also lowering overall cost of care.
BCBS reports that children diagnosed with asthma who received care at those participating clinics saw a 62 percent decrease in hospitalizations. The company found that the same group of patients also experienced a 54 percent decrease in emergency room visits.
Riding this promising wave of success, HCSC and ALAUM aim to extend the program for another two years, with plans to recruit 50 more clinics, including some in Montana. Additionally, a new home-care component will be added, enabling certified asthma educators to visit pediatric allergy sufferers’ residences to check for irritants and allergens that may prevent them from better managing the disease.
As for Anderson, Burke says the girl’s asthma symptoms remain under control and that she’s feeling better every day.
“Having this program in her school allowed her to get a proper diagnosis, which mapped out the course of treatment for her,” Burke says. “She hasn’t been to the hospital in months, is back on the cheerleading team, and is able to lead the life of a normal high school student.”