As health equity advocates we share a fundamental vision of a nation where every single human being has an equitable chance to enjoy the best health possible, no matter who they are—including where they were born. For us, it is not about being on the left or right of the political spectrum. Equal access to good health is an intrinsically human value.
Connecticut just took an important step toward improving health outcomes for its most vulnerable residents. Earlier this summer, the governor signed a law that lays the foundation for the broader use and support of community health workers (CHWs).
Community health workers play a valuable role in helping people achieve better health. Because they are trusted community members, they are uniquely effective at connecting underserved communities to the health care system and helping people navigate social factors that pose barriers to good health. In doing so, CHWs help to improve health outcomes and narrow health disparities.
Through our new Community Health Worker Sustainability Collaborative, launched with the support of the Kresge Foundation, we will work with CHW organizations, health care and health equity advocates, policy makers, and other stakeholders to promote using Medicaid funds to provide more sustainable support to CHW programs and better integrate them into the health care system.
We know that unleashing the power of CHWs in communities across the country will make a tremendous difference in health and health care, especially in communities of color.
For those of us engaged in the daily work of bending the arc of history toward justice, the last few weeks have pierced us to our core.
As health equity advocates, the very heart of our vocation is a shared belief that every single human being has the right to live a healthy life—a right that must be supported with resources and concrete action.
After the close of each open enrollment session, enrollment assisters often debrief with each other to discuss what worked and what lessons they learned about successful enrollment. In several debrief meetings we joined recently around the country, discussion frequently touched on the increasing complexity of consumers’ needs and assisters’ growing interest in professional development.
As members of the enrollment team at Families USA, we were invited to help plan and facilitate some of these debrief meetings. Reflections about lessons learned from the last open enrollment were a crucial component of those meetings, but many also used this time to look ahead and plan for next year.
In early January, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation announced its first program focused on addressing a patient’s social needs. This 5-year, $157 million pilot program, called Accountable Health Communities, will try to bridge the gap between clinical and social services, testing whether addressing these needs can improve health, lower costs, and improve quality for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
Across the country, states are experimenting with new health delivery models aimed at strengthening primary care and addressing social service needs that can affect a patient’s overall health. Both community health workers and enrollment assisters can serve an important role in this work by connecting clients with services that enable them to access care and manage their health.
The activity around payment and system reform creates an opportunity to develop interventions that directly address racial and ethnic health disparities. However, some reforms could inadvertently make disparities worse. For example, they could discourage providers from treating sicker, more complex patients, or undermine the financial viability of struggling safety net providers.
Fortunately, some communities are implementing delivery system reforms that reduce health disparities and bend the cost curve. The effective models we describe in this blog series share several features in common.
Across the country, there is tremendous momentum to change how health care is delivered and paid for in order to improve quality and to curb costs. These initiatives to transform the health system have the potential to improve care for everyone, and could directly address health disparities. Advocates must actively engage in these reform efforts—both to protect communities of color from harm and to take maximum advantage of opportunities to transform health care delivery to better serve people of color.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more Americans can afford quality health insurance. However, having health insurance does not always equal having access to high-quality health care. This is especially true for people of color, who historically have had to grapple with racial and ethnic health disparities. Many people of color continue to face barriers to obtaining high-quality health care, and our nation’s health is closely tied to addressing these obstacles.