Defining Health Equity

In May 2017, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report titled “What is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make?” with the purpose “stimulate discussion and promote greater consensus about the meaning of health equity and the implications for action within the Culture of Health Action Framework.” In doing so, the authors identify crucial elements to guide effective action. The way we define health equity is important as it reveals the values and beliefs that are used to make decisions, justify actions, and promote policies.

The document provides a general definition of health equity:

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

In pointing out the importance of measurement for accountability, the authors added the following:

For the purposes of measurement, health equity means reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health and its determinants that adversely affect excluded or marginalized groups.

With those definitions as a starting point the report offers :

  • Series of definitions for different audiences
  • Explanation of key concepts
  • Criteria for defining health equity
  • Discussion of steps to advancing health equity
  • Guiding principles
  • Glossary of terms often arising in health equity discussions

See a summary of the report.

Download the report, Braveman P, Arkin E, Orleans T, Proctor D, and Plough A. What Is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make? Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017.

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Three-Year Impacts of the Affordable Care Act: Improved Medical Care and Health Among Low-Income Adults

The following comes from a Commonwealth Fund summary of research first published in Health Affairs Web.


Synopsis
Low-income adults in Arkansas and Kentucky who obtained coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion had better access to primary care and preventive health services, lower out-of-pocket costs, improved medication compliance, and improved self-reported health status than did low-income adults in Texas, which did not expand Medicaid. Among adults with chronic conditions, ACA coverage was associated with better disease management and medication compliance and a significant increase in self-reported health status.

The Issue
Congress is currently weighing the future of the Affordable Care Act. Since becoming law, the ACA has helped more than 20 million Americans enroll in health insurance coverage, and national studies have noted improvements in coverage, consumer satisfaction, and access to care. In this Commonwealth Fund–supported study, researchers compared Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid as prescribed by the ACA; Arkansas, which obtained a waiver to use federal Medicaid funds available through the ACA to purchase private marketplace insurance for low-income adults; and Texas, which did not expand Medicaid coverage. Looking at these three states, the authors assessed ongoing changes in health care use and self-reported health among low-income adults, including those with chronic conditions, after three full years of the ACA’s coverage expansions.

Key Findings

  • By the end of 2016, the uninsured rate in Arkansas and Kentucky—the two expansion states—had dropped by more than 20 percentage points compared to Texas, the nonexpansion state. In 2016, the uninsured rate was 7.4 percent in Kentucky, 11.7 percent in Arkansas, and 28.2 percent in Texas.
  • Low-income adults in Kentucky and Arkansas who gained coverage experienced a 41-percentage-point increase in having a usual source of care, a $337 reduction in annual out-of-pocket costs, and a 23-point increase in the share of those who reported they were in “excellent” health.
  • Results were similarly positive for people with chronic illnesses who gained coverage because of the ACA. Low-income patients with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke who gained coverage were 56 points more likely to report having regular care for their condition than were chronically ill adults in Texas, 51 points less likely than those in Texas to skip medications because of the cost, and 20 points more likely to report being in excellent health.

See the full summary.
See the original article.

 

‘Connectivity’ as the Key to Healthy Communities

The following excerpt originally appeared in in an article by Shannon Firth in MedPage Today  on May 11, 2017 summarizing a panel discussion that had taken place on May 9, 2017.


Keeping people connected to resources necessary to maintain good health — not least of which is other people — is a vital but often neglected factor in modern healthcare, policy experts and scholars said here Tuesday.

Transportation is an “underappreciated” health problem, said Dayna Bowen Matthew, JD, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Center for Health Policy, at a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution on Tuesday.

She noted that interstate highways aren’t always a means of connecting people to each other and to resources: in cities, they create barriers as well.

A grid of superhighways can mean a person living in a city’s southeast quadrant must take two buses and time off from work to reach a well-intentioned “food solution” in the northwest quadrant.

“That community’s not connected,” said Bowen Matthew, who is also a professor at University of Colorado Law School and the Colorado School of Public Health, and author of Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care.

Those families across town from farmers’ markets and other fresh food resources will rely on the more accessible options instead, which may be fast food.

Tuesday’s discussion focused heavily on the social determinants of health — nonmedical factors that greatly influence a population’s health such as transportation, housing, access to food — but one thing unites these influences: connectivity.

Social Networks are Key

The National Health Service in England has a “district nurse,” an individual responsible for keeping watch over certain neighborhoods, explained, Stuart Butler, PhD, a senior fellow in economics for the Brookings Institution.

Growing up in England, Butler’s mother ran a post office, which was a key source of “intel” for the district nurse on the community residents’ well-being. If Butler’s mother hadn’t seen someone for a few days, the nurse would learn of this and ride her bicycle to the person’s home.

Decades later and an ocean away, Matt Brown, RN, a geriatric nurse navigator at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, learned quickly about the importance of follow-up phone calls to ensure smooth transitions back to the community.

During his first such call as part of a senior-focused transition project, he spoke to a patient who had just returned home after being hospitalized for pneumonia.

In the course of the phone call, the patient reluctantly admitted he had fallen and couldn’t get up off the floor of his home. Brown convinced him to call 911, rather than wait for the patient’s wife to come home. When the ambulance arrived, Brown spoke with the emergency medical technicians to confirm his patient was okay.

To further reduce the risk of injuries, the Sibley Innovation Hub has offered a short training course focused on transitions after certain surgeries, which they are now supplementing with animated patient education videos.

Read the full article.

How med student loan burdens can deepen health disparities

The following article by Caleb Zimmerschied originally appeared on AMA Wire on April 27, 2017.


The high loan burden associated with medical school can discourage students from underrepresented minority groups or lower-income families from pursuing a career as a physician. This creates a ripple effect of widening health care disparities that disproportionately affect the accessibility of primary care physicians in underserved areas.

Adjusted for inflation, the average medical student graduated in 2014 with a loan burden 3.5 times greater than a medical student in 1978. By 2014, the average loan burden was over $170,000.

Higher interest rates and unsubsidized loans for graduate students mean that they pay off more per dollar owed than undergraduate students. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that, accounting for interest under the Pay As You Earn repayment program, a student with $180,000 in loan burdens could pay almost $380,000 in total repayment. During a three-year residency, the AAMC estimates that total repayment to reach nearly $450,000. This amount increases further if a student pursues a specialty care field.

Those kinds of figures may be enough to intimidate any bright student considering a career in medicine. But students in ethnic and racial minority groups that are underrepresented in medicine, and those from lower-income families, can be particularly daunted by the prospect of six-figure loan burdens. According to the most recent AAMC report, 18.2 percent of black high-school sophomores said they aspired to apply to medical school, but only 6.7 percent actually applied. For Hispanic high-school sophomores, 24.4 percent said they wanted to go to medical school but only 6.8 percent applied.

According to 2014 AAMC data, while 13 percent of the U.S. population was black, they only made up 4.1 percent of the physician workforce. Hispanics accounted for 18 percent of Americans, but only 4.4 percent of the physician workforce. This in turn likely contributes to the lack of physicians making direct efforts to serve these communities. According to research published in JAMA, despite making up less than 30 percent of the physician workforce in 2013, physicians from underserved groups are significantly more likely to see nonwhite patients, and “nonwhite physicians cared for 53.5 percent of minority and 70.4 percent of non-English-speaking patients.”

Additionally, the cost of medical school likely deters applicants from lower-income rural communities as well. This could contribute to the fact that while 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, only 10 percent of physicians practice where people in rural communities can access them. With a shortage of about 4,000 primary care physicians, 77 percent of rural U.S. counties are designated as health professional shortage areas.

Read full article

Because Social Science Is Necessary to Achieve Health Equity

The following article by Courtney Ferrell Aklin, Ph.D.(National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D. (National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), National Institutes of Health (NIH)) first appeared on the Why Social Science Blog? on April 25, 2017.


Living in an America in which all populations have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, and productive lives is the vision of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. As we bring National Minority Health Month to a close, it is important to remember that not all groups have obtained health equity. Racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, people with disadvantaged socioeconomic resources and sexual and gender minorities carry a disproportionate burden of illness and disease. The search to determine the best way to reduce health disparities and to achieve health equity remains challenging for all of us.

The potential to live longer and healthier lives is greater than ever before with the emergence of medical and technical advances in healthcare and the adoption of healthier lifestyles. Despite these advances, health disparities continue to persist. A health disparity, defined as a health difference that adversely affects disadvantaged populations, based on one or more health outcomes, results from a series of complex and interrelated factors. To truly reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities a framework must be applied that can address the multifaceted underlying causes of the disparity.

The social sciences have provided the very frameworks necessary for understanding the complexity of health disparities. Health, which is at the center of health disparities, is a combination of interactions among biological pathways, individual behavior, social interactions, physical or built environment, and the intersections with the health care system. Research to date shows that the development and maintenance of disease cannot be explained solely by genes and biological mechanisms. Behavioral and social factors are just as crucial to understanding the trajectory of health disparities as those contributed by biology. Important research questions such as adherence to treatment regimens, patient and clinician racial/ethnicity or gender match and its effects on health outcomes, and the interaction of chronic stress and health behaviors in development of disease are all derived out of social science theory.

The examination of where we work, live, and play, also known as the social determinants of health (SDOH) has taken a prominent role as a contributor to differences in health outcomes for health disparity populations. SDOH sit at the intersection of where social science theory and research methodology are applied to the practice of public health. Given the public health concern that continues to arise as health disparities persist, despite a myriad of targeted interventions to address them, NIMHD is committed to ensuring that all factors contributing to the etiology of health disparities are recognized.

Read the full article.

Medicaid Helps Schools Help Children

From the report by Jessica Schubel on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website:

Medicaid provides affordable and comprehensive health coverage to over 30 million children, improving their health and their families’ financial well-being.[1] In addition to the immediate health and financial benefits that Medicaid provides, children covered by Medicaid experience long-term health and economic gains as adults.[2] Many children receive Medicaid-covered health care not only at the doctor’s office, but also often at school.

For students with disabilities, schools must provide medical services that are necessary for them to get an education as part of their special education plans, and Medicaid pays for these services for eligible children. And Medicaid’s role in schools goes beyond special education, as it also pays for health services that all children need, such as vision and dental screenings, when they are provided in schools to Medicaid-eligible children. Schools can also help enroll eligible but unenrolled children in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and connect them to other health care services and providers. Medicaid also helps schools by reducing special education and other healthcare-related costs, freeing up funding in state and school budgets to help advance other education initiatives.

Read the full report to learn more about

  • Leveraging Medicaid for special education
  • Helping kids stay healthy and succeed academically
  • Connecting kids to coverage

Lancet series puts spotlight on health inequity in the U.S.

From the article by Paige Minemyer on FierceHealthcare:

Societal issues in the U.S., including systemic racism, poverty and mass incarceration, contribute to health inequity, a new series of studies has found.

The Lancet released a five-part look at health inequity in the U.S., titled the “United States of Health,” and researchers found that institutional racism, the increasing income gap and high rates of incarceration are all factors that make it harder for minorities and the poor to access healthcare. And the healthcare system, as it is financially structured today, only makes this problem worse, the researchers concluded.

…Poor Americans have made limited gains in life expectancy over the past 15 years, researchers found. Since 2001, the poorest 5% have not seen their survival rates increase at all, while while middle- and high-income people have seen their life expectancy increase by two years. The richest 1% of Americans live between 10 and 15 years longer than those who are among the poorest 1%.

Economic insecurity is a key factor in some of today’s biggest public health crises, including the opioid epidemic and increasing rates of obesity, study author Jacob Bor, Sc.D., assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said in announcement. But despite their increasing health concerns, it is becoming increasingly hard for Americans in poverty to pay for healthcare, creating a “health-poverty trap,” Bor said.

Poor Americans are also the most likely to be uninsured. Though the Affordable Care Act has made strides toward decreasing the number of people without insurance, a lack of options in ACA exchanges, particularly in states that did not expand Medicaid, leaves many poorer people in the U.S. with few avenues to get health insurance, researchers found. In 2015, for instance, about a quarter of poor Americans were uninsured, compared with just 7.6% of people with middle or high incomes.

Minority groups are also hit hard by societal barriers that lead to health inequity, and research reflects poorer outcomes—for instance, infant mortality rates for black populations are twice those for white ones, according to the study. Structural racism relegates many black Americans to neighborhoods with poor housing options, high rates of crime and air pollution. These neighborhoods may also be neglected by public health officials, worsening the problems, researchers found.

Read the full article.

 

Workers Who Give Care To The Homebound Often Can’t Afford To Get Their Own

From the article by Shefali Luthra on Kaiser Health News:

For more than two decades, Celeste Thompson, 57, a home care worker in Missoula, Mont., had not had regular contact with a doctor — no annual physicals and limited sick visits. She also needed new glasses.

Like many others who work in the lower rungs of the health care system, she has worked hard to keep her clients healthy by feeding them, dressing them and helping them navigate chronic conditions.

But because of the low wages and the hourly structure of this industry — which analysts estimate is worth nearly $100 billion annually and projected to grow rapidly — workers like Thompson often don’t have health insurance. Many home health agencies, 80 percent of which are for-profit, don’t offer coverage, or their employees don’t consistently clock enough hours to be eligible. They generally earn too much to qualify for public aid but too little to afford the cost of premiums.

“It’s a social justice issue. We have a workforce that is the backbone of long-term [care] services, and they themselves don’t have coverage,” said Caitlin Connolly, who runs a campaign to increase home care wages at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy organization.

In 2015, Montana opted in to the 2010 health law’s expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal low-income health insurance program. Thompson, who was making about $10 an hour, immediately signed up.

Her vision care was among the first things she focused on. She had not visited an eye doctor in nine years — a problem because her job includes keeping track of patients’ pill bottles and making sure they take the right medications. “I had to use a magnifying glass to see small print,” said Thompson, who now wears bifocals. Her doctor has since warned her she may need a stronger correction soon.

…Thompson is part of a large population of home-based caregivers who might be affected by such changes. From 2010 to 2014, about half a million of these workers gained new health insurance through Obamacare, estimates PHI, a New York-based nonprofit that researches this slice of the labor force and advocates for improved working conditions, in a March issue brief.

Most home care workers’ gains came from living in states that, like Montana, expanded Medicaid. But even with Obamacare in place, many home health workers — perhaps 1 in 5 — remain uninsured. By contrast, about 8.6 percent of all Americans lack coverage.

Read the full article.

Treatment Gaps Persist Between Low- And High-Income Workers, Even With Insurance

From the article by Michelle Andrews on Kaiser Health News:

Low-wage workers with job-based health insurance were significantly more likely than their higher-income colleagues to wind up in the emergency department or be admitted to the hospital, in particular for conditions that with good primary care shouldn’t result in hospitalization, a new study found.

At the same time, low-wage workers were much less likely to get preventive care such as mammograms and colonoscopies, even though many of those services are available without cost-sharing under the 2010 health law.

There’s no single reason for the differences in health care use by workers at different wage levels, said Dr. Bruce Sherman, an assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the study’s lead author, which was published in the February issue of Health Affairs.

Finances often play a role. Half of workers with employer-sponsored insurance are enrolled in plans with a deductible of at least $1,000 for single coverage. As deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs continue to rise, low-wage workers may opt to pay the rent and put food on the table rather than keep up-to-date with regular doctor visits and lab work to manage their diabetes, for example.

Likewise, convenient access to care can be problematic for workers at the lower end of the pay scale.

“Individuals are penalized if they leave work to seek care,” Sherman said. “So they go after hours and their access to care is limited to urgent care centers or emergency departments.”

The study examined the 2014 health care claims, wage and other data of nearly 43,000 workers at four self-funded companies that offered coverage through a private health insurance exchange. Workers were stratified into four categories based on annual maximum wages of $30,000, $44,000, $70,000 and more than $70,000.

Workers in the lowest wage category were three times more likely to visit the emergency department than top earners, and more than four times more likely to have avoidable hospital admissions for conditions such as bacterial pneumonia or urinary tract infections. But they used preventive services only half as often, the study found.

Read the full article.

 

U.S. Cancer Mortality Rates Falling, But Some Regions Left Behind, Study Finds

From the article by NCI Staff on the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Currents Blog:

Rates of death from cancer in the United States dropped by 20% between 1980 and 2014, according to new research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

However, these gains were not distributed equally across the country. In 160 of the United States’ approximately 3,000 counties, cancer mortality rose substantially during the same time period.

The disparities in mortality between some counties were stark, the researchers found. In 2014, for example, the county with the highest overall cancer mortality had about 7 times as many cancer deaths per 100,000 residents as the county with the lowest overall cancer mortality.

Although disparities in cancer incidence and mortality have been well documented, Ali Mokdad, Ph.D., who led the study, said that the magnitude of the disparities seen in this study “was a surprise.”

The findings were published January 24 in JAMA.

Read the full Blog Article.