BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP)–A new coalition announced Monday has its eye on reimagining the state’s health care and health policy landscape to better focus on equity, and its members hope to put forward a slate of proposals for moving toward that goal as soon as this fall.
The Health Equity Compact, officially launched with a Monday afternoon event at the Dimock Community Health Center in Roxbury, describes its 40 founders as a group of “Black and Latinx leaders from across Massachusetts,” representing nonprofit, business and health care organizations.
The members say they were motivated to act by the health disparities illuminated during the COVID-19 pandemic and by acts of racial injustice over the past few years, including the 2020 killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. “We know that there are many existing efforts locally and nationally to address health equity, but what we really, really need is comprehensive system reforms to avoid piecemeal approaches, to avoid short-lived approaches, grants that run out,” said Juan Lopera, the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Beth Israel Lahey Health. “We need to codify health equity into law.”
Compact members said their policy priorities will encourage the state’s health care, business and nonprofit sectors to partner up in addressing social determinants of health, like access to food, affordable housing, child care and transportation. One of their proposals for addressing social determinants of health will be pushing for the creation of “health empowerment zones” to coordinate local, state, federal and nonprofit public health efforts in marginalized communities.
They will also advocate for expanding MassHealth coverage to more working families and vulnerable groups, redesigning the health care payment system to incentivize health equity and address gaps in services and social needs, and developing a wide-ranging plan to boost capacity and diversity in the health care workforce.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts will finance a report calculating the cost of racial health inequities in Massachusetts, providing data that Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Manny Lopes said will “bolster the moral imperative to address racial and ethnic inequities by demonstrating the economic imperative to do so.”
If the compact’s proposals for state-level action land this fall, they will arrive after formal legislative business on Beacon Hill ends for this two-year session on July 31, potentially leaving them in the hands of the new Legislature and governor that will be sworn in next January. Gov. Charlie Baker, the House and Senate have each put health care bills on the table so far this session but all have different priorities and it is unclear what specific measures, if any, they may coalesce around in the next few months.
Several of the compact members — Cambridge Health Alliance President and CEO Dr. Assaad Sayah, Baystate Health Vice President Frank Robinson, former House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez, Lynn Community Health Center CEO Kiame Mahaniah, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers President and CEO Michael Curry, and CareQuest Institute for Oral Health President and CEO Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan — also served on a state Health Equity Task Force created under a 2020 COVID-19 data law.
That panel, in a report published last summer, called for the state to “make equity the ‘North Star’ for guiding every decision about the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.” Specific policies the task force highlighted included the creation of a Cabinet-level equity leader, investments in community health center “rate adequacy,” extensions to MassHealth’s postpartum care coverage, universally free school meals, and the adoption of standard and consistent demographic data collection practices.