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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

House Passes Bill Creating Office of Health Equity

House Passes Bill Creating Office of Health Equity

January 27, 2016

The Massachusetts House of Representatives today took a major step to address health disparities by passing legislation creating an Office of Health Equity. The bill passed by an overwhelming 152 to 4 vote.

The bill (H. 3969) has been a long-time priority for Health Care For All. It creates an Office of Health Equity within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), charged with creating an annual plan for the elimination of health disparities in Massachusetts and working with other state agencies, including agencies dealing with housing, transportation, public safety and labor, on disparities reduction initiatives to address the social factors that influence health inequities.

Bill co-sponsor Representative Jeffrey Sánchez spoke passionately in support of the bill on the House floor:

Today is a really big day. It's another chapter in our road to health reform. Minorities have a disproportionate burden of death and disabilities Seventy-five percent of spending are on chronic diseases. The are conditions that are preventable and disproportionately affect people of color. African American and Latino citizens have a higher mortality rate and worse health outcomes. ... The benefits of a dedicated office of health equity are clear. It will improve the communication and the coordination and duplication across state agencies to make sure that we're using our scarce dollars to make a better impact and to make sure we leverage cross sector experience and foster mutual understanding and also to serve as a single point of access for partners outside of state government. We have to make sure disparities don't continue to broaden.

Also speaking was the bill's other co-sponsor, Representive Byron Rushing:

When we look at statistics like black residents having a higher death rate from asthma than other groups, when we look at statistics such as black and Hispanic babies have a 3 times and 2 times higher respectively infant mortality, we are not talking about other parts of this country. We are talking about Massachusetts from Boston to Pittsfield. We are talking about our own population.... This is complicated. It will not be solved overnight but it will never be solved if we are not consistently paying attention to it, and that's where this piece of legislation comes in. By establishing this office under the governor, we will now have a place that will be consistently looking at a strategy that will involve much more than only the medical establishment in looking to end these disparities. We will have an office that will be consistently working on this work and reporting on all of this progress so that we will be able to be involved in an educated set of policies and suggestions for future changes.

Over a decade ago, HCFA convened the "Disparities Action Network," which brought together dozens of groups in support of the bill. The group continues to advocate on disparities issues, and was active today expressing strong support for the bill to the House members.

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

              -- Brian Rosman