All About Access: How This Health Funder Gives Grants in Boston and Beyond


Inside Philanthropy has looked at several different Blue Cross Blue Shield foundations across the country to get a sense of how health insurance funders with regional and state-wide focuses tend to operate. Here we zero in on the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation (BCBSMF), which granted over $1.5 million in grants to community groups near the end of last year.

Although BCBSMF is based in Boston, only a portion of its grants stay in the city each cycle. Instead, this is a funder that spreads its giving around to all parts of the state and to towns, both large and small. Yet Boston groups tend to secure a good amount of support each and every year, so this is a definitely a health funder for city groups to know. Its mission is to expand access to healthcare for vulnerable and low-income Massachusetts residents, and most recently, the main target areas have been about connecting consumers to publicly subsidized health insurance and strengthening community-based policy activities.

Audrey Shelto, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, said:

With the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) uncertain and federal funding for Massachusetts health care programs at risk, support for organizations that are intensely focused on accessibility to coverage and care is more important now than at any time since the passage of the Commonwealth’s landmark health care law in 2006. These grants will make an enormous difference in the health and lives of low-income people, from Boston and the Cape Cod region, to central Massachusetts and the Berkshires.

“Connecting Consumers with Care” grants provide up to two years of support for nonprofits that are assisting people with enrolling for health insurance, keeping them insured, and dealing with post-enrollment issues. New Boston-based grantees for this category include the Boston Public Health Commission and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, both of which received $40,000 from the health insurance funder.

The other big category in focus lately is called “Strengthening the Voice for Access,” and these are grants that provide up to two years of operating support to boost citizen participation and collaboration among organizations to spur public policy development. Access to insurance coverage and healthcare affordability are the two main concerns here. In its most recent grantmaking cycle, BCBSMF awarded policy-oriented grants to almost exclusively Boston groups, including the Boston Center for Independent Living, Health Care for All, and the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness–Massachusetts. Many statewide health organizations are based in Boston, so this explains the heightened focus on city giving here. These also tend to be larger grants and more in the $60,000 to $75,000 range.

In addition to the main target areas, BCBSMF has also been giving one-time grants to pilot and demonstration projects across the state that address the issue of getting low-income consumers access to healthcare. An example of a new local special initiatives grant is a $40,000 award that went to Community Care Cooperative in Boston. This grantee, as well as many others in BCBSMF’s latest round of giving, received funding in 2016 as well. This is a funder that often sticks to familiar groups, but that also doesn't shy away from innovative ideas from new applicants. 

To learn more about health issues in Massachusetts and how the foundation has been involved, check out its recent and past publications. Recent topics of interest include access to outpatient mental health services, long-term care services, and health insurance for children. The foundation was established in 2001 with an initial endowment from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Looking ahead, there will be some new opportunities opening up in July 2018 for behavioral health and ways to integrate it into primary care in Boston and throughout Massachusetts.

Related: In One City, an Effort to Address the Nexus Between Housing and Health Gains Momentum