Let’s Talk About Health Inequities

by Sierra Harris, BCA Intern

In early January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Minority Health publicly unveiled their draft of the National Plan for Action, a report that outlines 20 strategies to impact the elimination of health disparities in the United States. In a uniquely transparent and collaborative effort by the HHS, the draft was submitted to the public seeking feedback from individuals and nonprofit health organizations before the plan was finalized. At the time of the report’s release, I was on staff at BCA and had the opportunity to digest this dense yet encouraging report. Here’s a summary of the ins and outs of this precedent-setting government effort.

The report outlines the problem of the staggering health inequities in the United States. In a disturbing display of graphs and data, the first chapter is organized by ailment or disease and then broken down by rates per population. Race, socioeconomic status, age, and gender are displayed as health determinants, and the statistics show that non-white minorities, particularly those of a lower socioeconomic status, are at greater risk of harm and death across the board. The data shows that health disparities are unequivocally a major health care burden in the United States.

Much of the report outlines strategies, implementation, and evaluation processes. I was somewhat cynical about whether this report would put those most affected by health inequities, such as people of color and women, at the center of any strategy. Surprisingly, despite my cynicism, I became convinced and hopeful by several overarching emerging themes.
The report’s strategy component has several encouraging and grassroots-minded goals such as building leadership among impacted communities, funding community-based participatory research, extending education on health disparities as part of public school curriculum, promoting access to care in all neighborhoods, promoting and requiring cultural competency in health care, and adopting a continual evaluation process to improve programs with evidence-based research.

The implementation component was similarly encouraging and promising collaboration between community members and state representatives, as well as a strong and transparent communication between NGOs, federal agencies, and health providers. Putting competition and self-interests aside, this report encourages a comprehensive and cooperative initiative by all in order to decrease health inequities.

The final draft of this report will be released later this year. The extent to which suggestions by health advocates and community members are incorporated still remains to be seen.  We should closely monitor the implementation and health impacts of this report and continue to ask critical questions. Keeping that in mind, the decisive approach of this administration to tackling health inequities is certainly a start in the right direction. BCA is currently developing its own program and voice addressing breast cancer inequities, and this work is more pressing and pertinent than ever.

I believe the National Plan for Action has fallen in line with what many health advocates have said for years, as it explicitly unveils generations of health injustices in poor communities of color. If this report achieves anything, health organizations will no longer be able to ignore the impact of race and class on health. Action is the plea of this report, and now is the time for all organizations, on all levels, to focus on health inequities in a meaningful and urgent way.

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