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?

February 20, 2008

As debate begins on the Governor’s FY 09 budget, some have questioned Gov. Patrick’s proposal to create an Office of Health Equity at the Executive Office of Health & Human Services. The Disparities Action Network responds.

Why does Massachusetts need an Office of Health Equity?
People of color have worse health outcomes than the majority population on nearly every key health indicator in Massachusetts. Despite health access expansion, people of color bear an unequal burden of disease and death that is costly and unconscionable. The proposed Office creates a permanent central place in state government to spearhead efforts to eliminate disparities. There is currently no home for leadership and activity on disparities, despite the wealth of state and national research documenting the pervasiveness of disparities and solutions. The Office would coordinate efforts by state agencies to eliminate disparities, and oversee grant programs to demonstrate best practices. This office can provide direction, technical support and resources for public health commissions, state and local public health departments, and other agencies on disparities, while monitoring and evaluating our progress.

Why should the Office of Health Equity be located in EOHHS?
Health disparities involve many social, economic, and behavioral factors beyond access. Much research demonstrates relationships between social determinants (housing, education, transportation, employment etc.) and poor health. Locating an Office of Health Equity in the Secretariat allows the Office sufficient coordinating impact over a wide range of agencies to ensure that disparities elimination is integrated into all relevant initiatives of state government.

Aren’t there existing councils addressing health disparities issues?
The health care access law, Chapter 58, established two councils with relevance to disparities: the Quality and Cost Council and the Health Disparities Council. The Quality Council’s efforts focus on cost reduction and quality improvement. The reduction of disparities as a quality improvement effort has not been a major focus of the Council amidst a multitude of other quality and cost issues. The Disparities Council has met only once and is just beginning to outline a plan of action. This council can play an important role in advising state efforts, including a new Office of Health Equity, but cannot lead a major effort that coordinates state wide efforts, administers grant programs, and evaluates state progress.
Elmer Freeman, DAN Co-Chair