Health Equity office eyed in House vote

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would create a state Office of Health Equity, which supporters said would work toward eliminating health disparities based on factors like race and income.

State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, described the move as “another chapter in our road to health reform” and said minorities face disproportionate rates of death and disability.

“The bill before us today tries to make sure things don’t get lost in translation when it comes to health care,” Sanchez said on the House floor after addressing his colleagues in Spanish.

The office, within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, would be charged with creating an annual plan for eliminating health disparities, evaluating existing programs and their effectiveness in reducing health disparities, and compiling an annual report that uses quantifiable measures to evaluate progress in eliminating disparities.

The bill (H 3969) passed on a 154-3 vote and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

In a letter to House leaders Tuesday, a coalition of more than 60 advocates, researchers and providers called for the bill’s passage.

“Massachusetts has long been a national leader on health insurance coverage across all demographics, yet residents of color still face (sic) disproportionately higher rates of chronic disease and mortality than do residents of the state as a whole,” the Disparities Action Network wrote. “Research shows that while access to medical care is important, social and environmental factors are even more critical in determining a person’s health.”

Factors like employment, housing, educational opportunity and discrimination create disparities, the coalition said.

Written by Katie Lannan and Colin A. Young