A diverse coalition of community advocates, health care professionals and public officials testified at a State House hearing on June 14 to support legislation seeking to address racial and ethnic health disparities.
State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, D-15th Suffolk/Norfolk, the House Chair of the Committee on Health Care Financing, sponsored the bill. The bill establish a state Office of Health Equity. This proposed new office would coordinate the various state policies to address health disparities by evaluating the effectiveness of policies and setting state goals and reporting annually on progress made towards reducing health disparities in the Commonwealth.
“Even with all of our successes in health care reform, focused on access, affordability and quality, there remain pervasive and persistent racial and ethnic disparities in health care status and outcomes,” said Sánchez.
“While we have made some progress with initiatives to address these factors, these efforts tend to lack coordination and long-term planning. A dedicated Office of Health Equity can provide a framework for coordinating these existing programs and optimize our efforts across multiple agencies,” said Sánchez. He said that socio-economic, behavioral and environmental factors greatly account for overall health status.
The bill was filed in response to recommendations from the 2007 Commission to End Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, which examined state and national data on ethnic and racial health disparities. The commission also evaluated current public and private programs and policies. One of the central recommendations of the commission was to form a state office to "support a sustained effort to eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities and coordinate public and private actions to address the social determinants of health."
Organizations that offered testimony in support included: Boston Public Health Commission; Cambridge Health Alliance; Disparities Action Network; Cancer Action Network; Asian Women for Health; Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers; Massachusetts Community Action Network; Healthcare for All; Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts; Massachusetts Public Health Association; ACT!! Coalition; Better Oral Health Massachusetts Coalition; Medical Legal Partnerships Boston and Providence; Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts; American Heart / Stroke Association; National Multiple Sclerosis Society – Greater New England Chapter; American Lung Association of Massachusetts.