A Healthy Blog

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

Why an Office of Health Equity?

Why an Office of Health Equity?

April 23, 2008

In his FY09 budget plan, Gov. Patrick proposed creation of an Office of Health Equity to be located in the Executive Office of Health & Human Services. The House budget plan released last week did not include this item. We hope the House will reconsider this omission and approve establishment of the Office. Why is this so important? The purpose of the Office is to establish a badly-needed focal point for state efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities. Disparities elimination is recognized as one the major challenges facing our health system. The most prominent recognition of disparities is by the esteemed Institute of Medicine in its 2002 report: Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care . The Legislature has recognized the importance of addressing disparities. A special legislative commission chaired by Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Rep. Peter Koutoujian issued a final report in the summer of 2007 recommending the establishment of such an office as a key way to create a better statewide program to eliminate disparities. Chapter 58, the health reform law, also was praised for its elements aimed at disparities elimination, most prominently the creation of a permanent Council to eliminate disparities. It’s fair to say that, among Chapter 58’s many successes, the disparities initiatives have achieved the least success. While other bodies such as the Connector Authority and the Quality/Cost Council have been well underway for nearly two years, the Disparities Council was only appointed at the end of 2007 and has only met once, this past January, and no future meeting has been scheduled. We think the answer why is pretty simple. The Council reports to no one and has no administrative support. An Office of Health Equity, as proposed by EOHHS Sect. Judy Ann Bigby, has the potential to be the vital center of a dynamic state initiative to eliminate disparities. It can also serve as the home to the Disparities Council, providing a base and structure sorely lacking now. We know House members, and particularly Speaker DiMasi, are committed to addressing racial and ethnic disparities, and we know this is a tough budget year. We hope they will consider Rep. Byron Rushing’s amendment to restore the Office of Health Equity. Daily News Tribune offers its own story on this -- click here. And visit the website of the Disparities Action Network (DAN) for more info.