Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reducing Health Disparities

HHS on April 8th released two strategic plans aimed at reducing health disparities. According to the “HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities” access to timely and needed primary healthcare services continues to be a major challenge for racial and ethnic communities. The second plan “National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity” provides goals and objectives to help racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved groups reach their full health potential.

According to the HHS Action Plan, HRSA will provide technical assistance and resources to health centers so that the centers will be able to adopt and meaningfully use health IT, track clinical control of blood pressure, provide clinical management of diabetes, and track reductions in racial and ethnic disparities in low birth weight child births.

The HHS Action plan specifically calls for HRSA to award 350 New Access Point grant awards to support new health center service delivery sites in medically underserved areas. Funds will be used to not only expand services at existing health center sites, but will also to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers nationwide. Also, community-based health teams will establish agreements with primary care physicians and other healthcare professionals to improve care coordination through patient-centered health homes.

In addition, there will be help available to racial and ethnic minority communities so that they can adopt certified EHRs. These communities will collaborate with federal and private sector partnerships, the National Health Information Technology Collaborative, and other health organizations. The report “HHS Health Information Technology Plan to End Health Disparities” will be released in the near future and will stress HIT interagency collaborations.

An important goal for the action plan is to implement a multifaceted health disparities data collection strategy across HHS. The plan is to establish data standards and activities reports for race, ethnicity, gender, primary language, and disability status as authorized in ACA. Another goal is to develop and implement strategies to increase access to information, tools, and resources to be able to conduct collaborative health disparities research across federal departments.

Another goal is to improve language access in Medicaid and the plans are to pilot test software for a web-based enrollment system to enable Medicaid staff to interview non-English speaking or low literacy applicants, which in turn, will help those applicants apply for Medicaid and CHIP benefits.

The plan suggests the importance for agencies to streamline grant administration for health disparities funding and to improve the administration of grants. One way is to identify effective ways to implement processes that simplify grant administrative activities for communities, community-based organizations, tribes, and states.

The second report “National stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity” presents a common set of goals and objectives for public and private sector initiatives and discusses the need for partnerships to help racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved groups reach their full health potential.

Go to the HHS Office of Minority Health at to view both strategic plans.