October 18, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 10
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House health disparities bill a must for Mass.

In spite of major achievements in the 20th century to establish equal rights under the law, powerful racial and ethnic health disparities persist.

We don’t know all of the reasons for disparities in health, but we do know that they are associated with systemic inequalities in social and physical environments, education, access to health care, and unequal treatment when people do receive care.

Efforts from single entities, such as government agencies, providers and community workers, to address this issue have been admirable, but piecemeal and insufficient. The impact of health disparities needs to be addressed not only in terms of health care and public health, but also across the social and environmental context of human lives.

Unfortunately, “universal coverage” will not solve the problem of health disparities. Health care can help prevent disease, but mostly it intervenes after the fact.

This is why 48 organizations known as the Disparities Action Network, representing community members, advocates, researchers and health care providers, are jointly rallying around a comprehensive framework to eliminate health disparities in the Commonwealth.

There is a bill under consideration by the state Legislature called House Bill 2234. If passed, this bill would create a new state Office of Health Equity to support a comprehensive approach and coordinate efforts of public agencies to eliminate disparities. The Office would oversee key disparities reduction programs and monitor and evaluate the state’s progress on this important issue.

Health equity is the civil rights movement of our time. Massachusetts, once again, has a chance for leadership and must act.

Frederica M. Williams
President & CEO
Whittier Street Health Center
Member of the Disparities Action Network

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