HHS Announces Plan to Reduce ‘Health Disparities,’ Including Those Attributed to Violence

By Susan Jones | April 8, 2011 | 11:01 AM EDT

(CNSNews.com) – The Health and Human Services Department on Friday announced an “action plan” to reduce “health care disparities” among racial and ethnic minorities and other “under-served” populations.

The government wants to help those groups “reach their full health potential.” It defines a health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage.”

HHS says disparities exist in many different conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, flu, infant mortality, cancer, HIV/AIDS, chronic lower respiratory diseases, viral hepatitis, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, kidney disease, injury deaths, violence, behavioral health, and oral health.

The plan announced on Friday does not specify how disparities related to violence might be ended. But it does call for federal agencies and their partners to work together on various factors that contribute to health disparities.

“Where people live, learn, work and play affects their health as much as their access to health care,” said Dr. Garth Graham, who directs the HHS Office of Minority Health. “We have to confront the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities if we are to fulfill the President’s goal of ‘winning the future.’”

According to HHS, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy, are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease, and when they do get sick are less likely to have access to quality health care.

The Democrats’ new health care law has the “potential” to address these concerns, HHS said, by bringing down health care costs (an arguable point), investing in prevention and wellness, improving primary care, and linking health care with social services.

The Health and Human Services agency has set five overall goals for reducing disparities, as follows:

1. Expand insurance coverage, increase access to care through new health-care delivery sites and expand the use of new services, such as “medical homes.”
2. Strengthen the HHS workforce:  The agency plans to recruit undergraduates from underserved communities for public health and biomedical sciences careers; expand and improve health care interpreting and translation; and support more training of community health workers, called “promotoras.”

3. Hand out new “Community Transformation Grants” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to achieve improvements in cardiovascular disease, childhood obesity, tobacco-related diseases, maternal and child health, flu and asthma.

4. Implement new electronic health data collection, including data on race, ethnicity, primary language and other demographic categories.

5. Increase the Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability of HHS Programs:  This includes assessing HHS policies and programs to see if they are reducing health disparities.

“For the first time, the United States has a coordinated road map designed to give everyone the chance to live a healthy life,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a news release on Friday. “We all need to work together to combat this persistent problem so that we can build healthier communities and a stronger nation.”

On Friday, Sebelius planned to meet with patients, community leaders and other at a community health center in East Harlem, N.Y., to see firsthand how communities are addressing gaps in coverage.

Later on Friday, she planned to address a “women’s power lunch” hosted by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. The topic – a “call to action” to “end disparities” in health care.