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Third Birthday for Quality and Disparities Initiatives in Chapter 58

Third Birthday for Quality and Disparities Initiatives in Chapter 58

April 9, 2009

As we celebrate three years of healthcare reform this week and applaud the great work that has brought insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of individuals across the Commonwealth, we should also recognize efforts in the law to improve health care quality and eliminate health disparities.

Chapter 58 created the Massachusetts Health Care Quality and Cost Council with the mandate of creating a consumer-oriented website with quality and cost data and also setting cost containment and quality improvement goals for the Commonwealth. The website went live in December and now consumers have access to vital information that can help them make health care choices. The website will be expanded in the future with more hospital-focused measures as well as measures focused on the outpatient setting. The Quality and Cost Council is also now deeply involved in cost control conversations and has a goal of bringing the annual increase in health care costs down to the rate of increase of GDP by 2012. The Quality and Cost Council’s patient safety goals include reducing infections in both inpatient and outpatient settings. In concert with this is the Department of Public Health’s infection control and surveillance program, also created under Chapter 58. DPH, along with the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction, has been working to track and reduce infections in hospitals. This week, DPH is issuing its first public report on healthcare-associated infections. A hospital-specific report will come out in the fall. Again, consumers can use this information to make choices and hospitals can use this information to further reduce infections. Chapter 58 set the path for huge changes in the quality improvement landscape in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Health Disparities Council was also born in Chapter 58. Convened in December of 2007, the legislatively appointed Council brings together health equity experts to analyze state progress and challenges on a host of racial and ethnic health disparities issues. With the leadership of Senator Susan Fargo, Representative Byron Rushing and Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, the Council has been actively working on a comprehensive set of recommendations that address the state’s gaps in health status by race and ethnicity. Using 2005’s Legislative Commission on Health Disparities Final Report as a guide, the Council is evaluating the state’s progress on collecting race and language data, expanding healthcare access, and addressing social factors that influence health. Challenged with a complex and difficult issue, the Disparities Council is progressing with determination, and keeping disparities on the healthcare reform agenda.

The progress of these quality and disparities initiatives over the past three years is significant, and should be recognized alongside the expansion of healthcare insurance. Ensuring that all Massachusetts residents have quality, affordable and equitable healthcare is the next phase of healthcare reform, and essential to achieving the ultimate vision of Chapter 58.

- Camille Watson and Deb Wachenheim