A Spotlight on Health Disparities

By the year 2050, racial and ethnic minorities will comprise just over half of the total US population (US Census). Yet, racial and ethnic minorities, urban and rural poor, and other underserved populations continue to have poorer health and access to services.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) required federal infrastructure changes to address health disparities, and transferred the Office of Minority Health to the Office of the Secretary. Six individual Offices of Minority Health were also established with the Department of Health and Human Services. In the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this office is called the Office of Behavioral Health Equity. The ACA also included requirements for federally funded health and health care programs to enhance their data collection and reporting of data on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language, disability status, those living in rural and frontier areas and other characteristics. The National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA) included the development of regional cooperatives called Regional Health Equity Councils (RHECs). These are independent non-governmental organizations located in the ten health regions across the country. Their primary role is to initiate action to implement the goals of the NPA to eliminate health disparities. Other agencies, such as SAMHSA, are now requiring grantees to include health disparity impact statements and to track and monitor disparities across racial and ethnic populations and gender/minority groups in terms of access, services and outcomes.

With this federal spotlight and focus on disparities, many groups, communities and states are engaging in strategic planning processes to respond to these requirements, often engaging diverse partners. The systems building work of addressing health disparities is complex and requires partnerships with organizations that are not always included at the table.

On the national level, we continue the work of the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health as the National Facilitation Center and are guiding the Regional Health Equity Councils for the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities as they implement their work plans. Change Matrix is also supporting the work of Indiana’s state system of care expansion grant by providing input and guidance as they develop their disparities impact statement.

We continue to hear from grassroots, racial and ethnic community based organizations that while the work of serving diverse and typically underserved populations is critical, there are challenges in sustaining these efforts. We encourage leaders of organization, agencies, and systems to reach out to non-traditional partners as you embark on your health disparities work.