Reflecting on Our Journey towards Health Equity

By: Dr. Cara James, Director of the CMS Office of Minority Health

Each April, in recognition of National Minority Health Month, we commemorate past achievements, acknowledge current efforts, and outline our continued journey towards health equity and equality for all. Fifty years ago, our journey included stops in Independence, Missouri where Medicare and Medicaid became law; in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama; and in Washington, D.C. for the signing of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.

Since then, there have been many more landmark achievements in health equity. Events such as the publication of the Secretary’s report on Black & Minority Health (the Heckler Report) and the creation of the HHS Office of Minority Health illustrate the increased national attention on the need to address health and health care disparities. The publication of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s annual National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report illustrates our commitment to track our progress. The passage of the Affordable Care Act and the enrollment of millions of Americans, including many people of color in health plans, illustrate our continued advancement towards better care and healthier communities.

Five years ago, the Affordable Care Act established three additional offices of minority health within six HHS agencies. While several HHS agencies already had offices of minority health, the Office of Minority Health (OMH) at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) was an office newly established through the Affordable Care Act. The principal aim for CMS is better care, healthier people, and smarter spending. To help achieve this aim, the CMS Office of Minority Health ensures that the voices and needs of minority and underserved populations are present in the development, implementation, and evaluation of CMS programs and services. We are dedicated to working on behalf of all CMS beneficiaries, while strategically focusing on racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and Lesbian, Gay, Bi sexual and Transgender (LGBT) minorities. CMS OMH activities include: From Coverage to Care, the CMS Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare, strengthening CMS data collection and analysis, and working across the agency to embed a focus on health equity into new and existing programs and policies.

From Coverage to Care is an ongoing initiative designed to help consumers understand their healthcare coverage and how to access the care they need. Additionally, the CMS Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare is CMS’ first strategic equity plan. Launched in 2015, this equity plan identifies six priorities and provides an action-oriented, results-driven approach for advancing health equity by improving the quality of care provided to racial and ethnic minority and other underserved Medicare beneficiaries. Last month, CMS OMH launched an interactive web based tool for mapping Medicare disparities. The Mapping Medicare Disparities Tool contains health outcome measures for disease prevalence, costs, and hospitalization for 18 specific chronic conditions, emergency department utilization, readmissions rates, mortality and preventable hospitalizations.

We know we cannot achieve health equity on our own. It will take the support of partners from the federal to the community level.  We encourage you to join us on the path to health equity by using the resources discussed in this blog, bookmarking the CMS OMH website, joining our listserv, and of course building on your own health equity activities!

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