Equity in Medicine with BCBSIL President, Stephen Harris

As the largest provider of health benefits in Illinois BCBSIL serves over 8 million Illinois residents. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and racial uprisings revealed inequities in many sectors including the medical industry. BCBSIL is committed to increasing access to affordable healthcare.

Stephen Harris began his career with the intention of becoming a CPA. After working in that field, he left to become CFO of a small Medicaid managed care company. While there he began to understand the impact of healthcare in underserved communities. Wanting to make an impact, Harris uses his 20+ years of experience in the healthcare industry to create solutions to help underserved populations.

BCBSIL Chicago Defender
Stephen Harris, President Blue Cross Blue Shield IL

“As a leading health care company in Illinois, we know that health outcomes depend on more than access to care. These outcomes also depend upon meeting essential needs and the social determinants of health.”- Stephen Harris, President, BCBSIL


Harris says one of his areas of focus is ensuring underserved populations make preventative care a priority. The Blue Door neighborhood Center and Care Van program helps to increase access to quality, affordable health care. The Care Van program provided more than 8000 immunizations. Launched in 2019 in the Pullman neighborhood, the Blue Door Neighborhood Center has locations in Morgan Park and South Lawndale neighborhoods. They offer free services focusing on physical, mental, and social health.

“We focus on social determinants of health. Those are the barriers to quality care such as stable housing, food security, and transportation. BCBSIL provides food giveaways where we partner with local diverse suppliers to bring and provide food to the community. We feed around 250 families a month”. Harris continued, “this is key to building trust in the community. We allow the people in the community to define what they need, so the programming varies center to center.”   These neighborhood centers have job training, fitness classes, and skill development and have served more than 8,000 residents.


Like many businesses and service providers, the pandemic forced BCBSIL to adapt. In addition to boosting vaccine awareness and access during the pandemic, BCBSIL engaged with the community in new and innovative ways. “We had to have an extension beyond telephonic-related case management and engagement with our members. We had to pivot and do that virtually. We collaborated with our key providers to provide virtual access to care. Harris continued, “In these partnerships, we were able to make an impact in the midst of chaos.”  BCBSIL also partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health to deliver vaccines to the community and through the Blue Door Neighborhood Centers.

The pivot during the pandemic also included efforts to promote health equity by BCBSIL. More than $350k in grants were provided to community organizations on the south and west sides of the city specializing in maternal health. These grants provided funding for programs for mothers including doula services and a home-visiting program for young mothers.

BCBSIL Chicago Defender
BCBSIL Blue Door Neighborhood Block Party

In addition, $1 million was given to fifteen community-based organizations under the Care Van Immunization initiative to provide wellness visits, screenings, vaccinations, and health education. Harris believes a lack of information combined with a lack of access creates inequities in the health care system.

“There are challenges in communities of color whether it’s brick and mortar or having culturally competent physicians that can engage with people of color, to ask the right questions and engage in a way that builds trust and allows people to have a conversation about their health.”


Stephen Harris was named president of BCBSIL in the first quarter of 2022 and says he’s excited to engage and take advantage of the foundation established by his predecessor. “I think there is an opportunity for BCBSIL as it relates to our ability to advance health equity and work closely with our provides as it relates to incentivizing them to close those gaps.” The expansion of the Blue Door Neighborhood Center program is also part of his plan to open up additional opportunities to close health equity gaps.

“There is more success on the horizon, and we want to engage in our community to ensure they have the ability and awareness to receive the care they need. We want to be a trusted partner that provides access to get preventative care. We want to simplify the experience by making it easier to access the health care system using digital solutions and tools. It’s about making sure healthcare is affordable to all of our members. We are doing whatever we can to protect affordability for all.”


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