The AMA declares racism a public health threat

https://mailchi.mp/4422fbf9de8c/the-weekly-gist-november-20-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

AMA Declares Racism a Public Health Threat and Adopts Anti-Racist Policies  - Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly

On Monday, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to recognize racism as an “urgent threat to public health”. At its annual meeting, the organization’s House of Delegates voted to take actions to confront systemic, cultural and interpersonal racism, including acknowledging harm and bias in medical research and healthcare delivery, funding research to identify risks of racial bias to health, and encouraging medical schools to teach students about the causes and effects of racism, and strategies to prevent adverse health outcomes.

The resolution was one of several proposed items aimed at addressing racial diversity and equity in medical education and care delivery. Over the past two years, the AMA has been moving toward a more progressive stance on health and social policy; in June the AMA Board of Trustees also pledged action against racism and police brutality in response to the murder of George Floyd.

A generational divide between older and younger doctors was also apparent during last year’s debates on Medicare for All, when the organization narrowly voted to maintain its opposition to single-payer healthcare in a close vote that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.

At this week’s meeting, however, the group gave its stamp of approval to proposals for a more limited “public option” coverage expansion. As more young physicians enter the field of medicine, we’d expect the AMA to become a stronger voice on a range of social and policy issues. 

Health Care in the 2020 Presidential Election: Health Insurance Coverage and Affordability

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/health-care-2020-presidential-election-health-insurance-coverage-and-affordability

Health Care in the 2020 Presidential Election: Coverage

The Issue

  • The number of uninsured people has increased since 2016, rising from 29 million, following the reforms of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to 35.7 million by the end of 2019. The economic recession has left an estimated 3 million more people uninsured this year.
  • Racial inequities in coverage narrowed after the ACA, but uninsured rates among people of color exceed those of white people.
  • Many insured people pay premiums that consume an increasingly large share of their income.
  • An estimated 40 million people with insurance are effectively underinsured because of deductibles and cost-sharing.
  • An estimated 133 million people under age 65 have preexisting health conditions; COVID-19 has already increased that number by an estimated 3.4 million nonelderly adults (20–59) as of October 7.

The Candidates’ Approaches

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

Overall approach: Repeal the ACA and replace it with market-driven coverage options aimed at lowering premiums and increasing choice of plans tailored to individual preferences; give states more flexibility in designing coverage options; require more accountability for people with low incomes enrolled in public programs; protect preexisting conditions.

Medicaid: Repeal the ACA Medicaid expansion for adults; provide block grants to states to design their own programs; increase accountability through work requirements.

Individual market and marketplaces: Has promoted weaker regulations on plans that don’t comply with the ACA’s preexisting condition protections and other requirements; elimination of advertising and enrollment assistance during open enrollment; elimination of payments to insurers to offer lower-deductible plans.

Employer coverage: Has promoted weaker regulations on association health plans that don’t comply with the ACA and allowed employers to fund accounts for employees to buy health plans on their own, including products that don’t comply with the ACA.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

Overall approach: Protect insurance for people with preexisting conditions by supporting and building on the ACA; expand insurance coverage and reduce consumers’ health care costs by enhancing the ACA’s marketplace subsidies, covering people currently eligible for Medicaid in nonexpansion states, and giving more people in employer plans the option to enroll in marketplace plans with subsidies.

Medicaid: Expand enrollment by allowing eligible people in 12 states without Medicaid expansion to enroll in a public plan through the marketplaces with no premiums; make enrollment easier with autoenrollment.

Individual market and marketplaces: Expand enrollment through enhanced subsidies, greater advertising and enrollment assistance: no one pays more than 8.5 percent of income on marketplace coverage; change the benchmark plan from silver to gold to reduce deductibles and cost-sharing.

Employer coverage: Allows anyone with employer coverage to enroll in a public plan through the marketplaces and be eligible for subsidies.

Medicare: Would allow people ages 60 to 65 to enroll in a Medicare-like heath plan.

Implications of the Candidates’ Approaches

I DON’T HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE. WILL THE APPROACHES PROVIDE ME WITH NEW OPTIONS?

Trump: The number of people without health insurance has increased under the president’s watch in part because of policies that have eliminated the promotion and advertising of marketplace open-enrollment periods, enrollment restrictions in Medicaid, and immigration policies that have had a chilling effect on enrollment of legal immigrants and their children. Trump supports a lawsuit now before the Supreme Court that argues for repeal of the ACA, which would eliminate coverage for as many as 20 million people. Says he will come up with a replacement but has yet to do so.

Biden: Has introduced proposals to build on the ACA by covering people in the 12 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid and enhance subsidies for marketplace plans. This would provide new options for people who are currently uninsured and increase coverage over time.

I HAVE A PREEXISTING HEALTH CONDITION. WILL THE APPROACH GUARANTEE THAT I CAN ALWAYS GET COVERED?

Trump: The ACA currently provides this protection. Trump supports the lawsuit before the Supreme Court that argues for repeal of the ACA and its preexisting conditions provision. Trump issued an executive order that said preexisting conditions are protected, but without the ACA or new legislation the order has no effect and is purely symbolic.

Biden: The vice president pledges to support and build on the ACA, retaining its preexisting condition protections.

MY PREMIUMS AND DEDUCTIBLES ARE BECOMING LESS AFFORDABLE; WILL THE CANDIDATES’ APPROACHES LOWER THEM?

Trump: The president eliminated payments to insurers to reimburse them for offering lower-deductible plans in the ACA marketplaces to people with lower incomes, as required by the law. This had the effect of increasing premiums for people not eligible for subsidies. He has promoted the sale of non-ACA-compliant health plans, like short-term plans. These plans have lower premiums for healthy people but screen for preexisting conditions and often provide little cost protection if someone becomes sick. He has loosened regulations for association health plans, although that was turned back under legal challenge. The repeal of the ACA would mean the loss of marketplace subsidies and preexisting-condition protections, making coverage unavailable or unaffordable for people with low and moderate incomes and those with health problems.

Biden: The vice president’s proposal to enhance marketplace subsidies will cap the amount of premiums people pay at 8.5 percent of income, including people in employer plans who would have the option to enroll in the marketplaces. By linking subsidies to gold plans, deductibles would also fall for those who choose those plans.

I AM WORRIED ABOUT RACIAL INEQUITY IN HEALTH CARE. WILL THE APPROACH MAKE HEALTH COVERAGE MORE EQUITABLE?

Trump: Uninsured rates among Hispanic people have risen under the president’s watch. Repealing the ACA would further eliminate coverage gains made by Hispanics, as well as Black people and Asian Americans, widening racial disparities in coverage and access.

Biden: The vice president’s proposals to expand coverage under the ACA will particularly benefit people of color. This is because people living in the 12 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid are disproportionately Black and Hispanic.

Health Care in the 2020 Presidential Election — A Commonwealth Fund Blog Series

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/introducing-health-care-2020-presidential-election-series

Comparing the Candidates' Health Care Plans

Before each presidential election, the Commonwealth Fund analyzes the major health policy positions of the Democratic and Republican candidates to assist Americans in making informed choices. In 2020, with health care rising to the top of the electorate’s concerns for myriad reasons, this information has never been more important.

In the next week, we will be publishing a series of analyses that compare the positions of President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, on topics like:

prescription drug policy;

the affordability and availability of health care and insurance, including the issue of preexisting conditions;

questions concerning older adults, like Medicare; how best to control the costs of health care;

addressing mental and behavioral health concerns;

and strategies for advancing health care equity.

In most previous presidential election years, we have had the opportunity to compare fairly well-delineated party and candidate programs. In 2020, President Trump and the Republican party have chosen not to issue any party platform or formal policy positions. Therefore, we have derived our description of President Trump’s program from the policies he espoused, and decisions made during his first term. Vice President Biden’s information comes from his campaign platform.

We hope you find these summaries helpful as you weigh your choices for Election Day.

Coronavirus threat rises across U.S.: ‘We just have to assume the monster is everywhere’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-threat-rises-across-us-we-just-have-to-assume-the-monster-is-everywhere/2020/08/01/cdb505e0-d1d8-11ea-8c55-61e7fa5e82ab_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most

The coronavirus is spreading at dangerous levels across much of the United States, and public health experts are demanding a dramatic reset in the national response, one that recognizes that the crisis is intensifying and that current piecemeal strategies aren’t working.

This is a new phase of the pandemic, one no longer built around local or regional clusters and hot spots. It comes at an unnerving moment in which the economy suffered its worst collapse since the Great Depression, schools are rapidly canceling plans for in-person instruction and Congress has failed to pass a new emergency relief package. President Trump continues to promote fringe science, the daily death toll keeps climbing and the human cost of the virus in America has just passed 150,000 lives.

“Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic. It’s time to reset,” declared a report released this week by Johns Hopkins University.

Another report from the Association of American Medical Colleges offered a similarly blunt message: “If the nation does not change its course — and soon — deaths in the United States could be well into the multiple hundreds of thousands.”

The country is exhausted, but the virus is not. It has shown a consistent pattern: It spreads opportunistically wherever people let down their guard and return to more familiar patterns of mobility and socializing. When communities tighten up, by closing bars or requiring masks in public, transmission drops.

That has happened in some Sun Belt states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, which are still dealing with a surge of hospitalizations and deaths but are finally turning around the rate of new infections.

There are signs, however, that the virus is spreading freely in much of the country. Experts are focused on upticks in the percentage of positive coronavirus tests in the upper South and Midwest. It is a sign that the virus could soon surge anew in the heartland. Infectious-disease experts also see warning signs in East Coast cities hammered in the spring.

“There are fewer and fewer places where anybody can assume the virus is not there,” Gov. Mike DeWine (R) of Ohio said Wednesday. “It’s in our most rural counties. It’s in our smallest communities. And we just have to assume the monster is everywhere. It’s everywhere.”

Dire data

An internal Trump administration briefing document prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and obtained Friday by The Washington Post counted 453,659 new infections in the past week.

Alaska is in trouble. And Hawaii, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma. Those are the five states, as of Friday, with the highest percentage increase in the seven-day average of new cases, according to a Post analysis of nationwide health data.

“The dominoes are falling now,” said David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which has produced a model showing where the virus is likely to spread over the next four weeks.

His team sees ominous trends in big cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington, with Boston and New York not far behind. And Rubin warns that the expected influx of students into college towns at the end of this month will be another epidemiological shock.

“I suspect we’re going to see big outbreaks in college towns,” he said.

Young people are less likely to have a severe outcome from the coronavirus, but they are adept at propelling the virus through the broader population, including among people at elevated risk. Numbers of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the United States went from 36,158 on July 1 to 52,767 on July 31, according to The Post’s data. FEMA reports a sharp increase in the number of patients on ventilators.

The crisis has highlighted the deep disparities in health outcomes among racial and ethnic groups, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week showed that hospitalization rates due to the coronavirus are roughly five times higher among Black, Hispanic and Native Americans than Whites.

Thirty-seven states and Puerto Rico will probably see rising daily death tolls during the next two weeks compared with the previous two weeks, according to the latest ensemble forecast from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that combines more than 30 coronavirus models.

There are glimmers of progress. The FEMA report showed 237 U.S. counties with at least two weeks of steady declines in numbers of new coronavirus cases.

But there are more than 3,100 counties in America.

“This is not a natural disaster that happens to one or two or three communities and then you rebuild,” said Beth Cameron, vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a former White House National Security Council staffer focused on pandemics. “This is a spreading disaster that moves from one place to another, and until it’s suppressed and until we ultimately have a safe and effective and distributed vaccine, every community is at risk.”

A national strategy, whether advanced by the federal government or by the states working in tandem, will more effectively control viral spread than the current patchwork of state and local policies, according to a study from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The coordination is necessary because one state’s policies affect other states. Sometimes, that influence is at a distance, because states that are geographically far apart can have cultural and social ties, as is the case with the “peer states” of New York and Florida, the report found.

“The cost of our uncoordinated national response to covid-19, it’s dramatic,” said MIT economist Sinan Aral, senior author of the paper.

Some experts argue for a full six-to-eight-week national shutdown, something even more sweeping than what was instituted in the spring. There appears to be no political support for such a move.

Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said fresh federal intervention is necessary in this second wave of closures. Enhanced federal unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, with no agreement on a new stimulus package in sight.

“Congress, on a bipartisan basis, was trying to create a bridge to help individuals and businesses navigate the period of a shutdown,” Bradley said. “Absent an extension of that bridge, in light of a second shutdown, that bridge becomes a pier. And then that’s a real problem.”

With the economy in shambles, hospitals filling up and the public frustrated, anxious and angry, the challenge for national leadership is finding a plausible sea-to-sea strategy that can win widespread support and simultaneously limit sickness and death from the virus.

Many Americans may simply feel discouraged and overtaxed, unable to maintain precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Others remain resistant, for cultural or ideological reasons, to public health guidance and buy into conspiracy theories and pseudoscience.

DeWine is struggling to get Ohio citizens to take seriously the need to wear masks. A sheriff in rural western Ohio told the governor Wednesday that people didn’t think the virus was a big problem. DeWine informed the sheriff that the numbers in his county were higher per capita than in Toledo.

“The way I’ve explained to people, if we want to have Friday night football in the fall, if we want our kids back in school, what we do in the next two weeks will determine if that happens,” DeWine said.

The crucial metric

The coronavirus has always been several steps ahead of the U.S. government, the scientific community, the news media and the general public. By the time a community notices a surge in patients to hospital emergency rooms, the virus has seeded itself widely.

The virus officially known as SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted by people who are infectious but not symptomatic. The incubation period is typically about six days, according to the CDC. When symptoms flare, they can be ambiguous. A person may not seek a test right away. Then, the test results may not come back for days, a week, even longer.

That delay makes contact tracing nearly futile. It also means government data on virus transmission is invariably out of date to some degree — it’s a snapshot of what was happening a week or two weeks before. And different jurisdictions use different metrics to track the virus, further fogging the picture.

The top doctors on the White House coronavirus task force, Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, are newly focused on the early warning signs of a virus outbreak. This week, they warned that the kind of runaway outbreaks seen in the Sun Belt could potentially happen elsewhere. Among the states of greatest concern: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Fauci and Birx have pointed to a critical metric: the percentage of positive test results. When that figure starts to tick upward, it is a sign of increasing community spread of the virus.

“That is kind of the predictor that if you don’t do something — namely, do something different — if you’re opening up at a certain pace, slow down, maybe even backtrack a little,” Fauci said in an interview Wednesday.

Without a vaccine, the primary tools for combating the spread of the virus remain the common-sense “non-pharmaceutical interventions,” including mask-wearing, hand-washing, staying out of bars and other confined spaces, maintaining social distancing of at least six feet and avoiding crowds, Fauci said.

“Seemingly simple maneuvers have been very effective in preventing or even turning around the kind of surges we’ve seen,” he said.

Thirty-three U.S. states have positivity rates above 5 percent. The World Health Organization has cited that percentage as a crucial benchmark for governments deciding whether to reopen their economy. Above 5 percent, stay closed. Below, open with caution.

Of states with positivity rates below 5 percent, nine have seen those rates rise during the last two weeks.

“You may not fully realize that when you think things are okay, you actually are seeing a subtle, insidious increase that is usually reflected in the percent of your tests that are positive,” Fauci said.

The shutdown blues

Some governors immediately took the White House warnings to heart. On Monday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said at a news conference that he had met with Birx the previous day and was told he was getting the same warning Texas and Florida received “weeks before the worst of the worst happened.”

To prevent that outcome in his state, Beshear said, he was closing bars for two weeks and cutting seating in restaurants.

But as Beshear pleaded that “we all need to be singing from the same sheet of music,” discord and confusion prevailed.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Thursday she wasn’t convinced a mask mandate is effective: “No one knows particularly the best strategy.”

Earlier in the week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) demurred on masks and bar closures even as he stood next to Birx and spoke to reporters.

“That’s not a plan for us now,” he said. He added emphatically, “We are not going to close the economy back down.”

The virus is spreading throughout his state, and not just in the big cities. Vacationers took the virus home from the honky-tonks of Nashville and blues clubs of Memphis to where they live in more rural areas, said John Graves, a professor at Vanderbilt University studying the pandemic.

“The geographical footprint of the virus has reached all corners of the state at this point,” Graves said.

In Missouri, Gov. Michael L. Parson (R) was dismissive of New York’s imposition of a quarantine on residents from his state as a sign of a worsening pandemic. “I’m not going to put much stock in what New York says — they’re a disaster,” he said at a news conference Monday.

Missouri has no mask mandate, leaving it to local officials to act — often in the face of hostility and threats. In the town of Branson, angry opponents testified Tuesday that there was no reason for a mask order when deaths in the county have been few and far between.

“It hasn’t hit us here yet, that’s what I’m scared of,” Branson Alderman Bill Skains said before voting with a majority in favor of the mandate. “It is coming, and it’s coming like a freight train.”

Democratic mayors in Missouri’s two biggest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, said that with so many people needing jobs, they are reluctant to follow Birx’s recommendation to close bars.

“The whole-blanket approach to shut everybody down feels a little harsh for the people who are doing it right,” said Jacob Long, spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. “We’re trying to take care of some bad actors first.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also got a warning from Birx. On Wednesday, he said all bar drinking must move outside.

“We don’t want to be heading in the direction of everybody else,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the infectious-disease epidemiology division at the Minnesota Department of Health. She acknowledged that some options “are really pretty draconian.”

The problem is that less-painful measures have proven insufficient.

“The disease transmission we’re seeing is more than what would have been expected if people were following the guidance as it is laid out. It’s a reflection of the fact that they’re not,” she said.

‘A tremendous disappointment’

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) tried to implement broad statewide measures early in the pandemic, only to have his “Safer at Home” order struck down by the state’s Supreme Court.

With cases in his state rising anew, he tried again Thursday, declaring a public health emergency and issuing a statewide mask mandate.

“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn’t care about any town, city or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track,” Evers said.

Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer, said he is dismayed by the failures of the national pandemic response.

“I really thought we had a chance to keep this suppressed,” Westergaard said. “The model is a good one: testing, tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine. Those things work. We saw this coming. We knew we had to build robust, flexible systems to do this in all of our communities. It feels like a tremendous disappointment that we weren’t able to build a system in time that could handle this.”

There is one benefit to the way the virus has spread so broadly, he noted: “We no longer have to keep track of people traveling to a hot spot if hot spots are everywhere.”

 

 

 

 

What ‘Racism Is a Public Health Issue’ Means

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-racism-public-health-issue-means-180975326/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200720-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43001584&spUserID=MTA5MDI1MDg0MjgxOQS2&spJobID=1801530184&spReportId=MTgwMTUzMDE4NAS2&fbclid=IwAR027OjpNcyZKM6Jd5aTYhgVaTzaO5lBqI4hCl1xsrKgQRL1bFYH538YIMA

What 'Racism Is a Public Health Issue' Means | Science ...

Epidemiologist Sharrelle Barber discusses the racial inequalities that exist for COVID-19 and many other health conditions.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whether cases are flaring up, slowing to a simmer, or back on the rise in areas across the United States, the data makes one fact apparent: The viral disease has disproportionally sickened and killed marginalized communities. A New York Times analysis of data from almost 1,000 counties that reported racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and fatalities revealed that, compared to white Americans, African Americans and Hispanics were three times more likely to experience and two times more likely to die from the illness. The Navajo Nation has, per capita, more confirmed cases and deaths than any of the 50 states.

Many factors, like access to healthcare and testing, household size, or essential worker status, likely contribute to the pandemic’s outsized toll on communities of color, but experts see a common root: the far-reaching effects of systemic racism.

That racism would have such an insidious effect on health isn’t a revelation to social epidemiologists. For decades, public health experts have discussed “weathering,” or the toll that repeated stressors experienced by people of color take on their health. Studies have demonstrated the link between such chronic stress and high blood pressure, the increased maternal mortality rate among black and indigenous women, and the elevated prevalence of diabetes in black, Latino and especially Native American populations. The pandemic has laid bare these inequities. At the same time, outcry over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans has roiled the nation, and the phrase, “Racism is a public health issue” has become an internet refrain.

What exactly is the nebulous concept of “public health”? According to Sharrelle Barber, a Drexel University assistant professor of epidemiology, the concept goes beyond the healthcare setting to take a more holistic look at health in different populations. “The charge of public health,” Barber told Smithsonian, “is really to prevent disease, prevent death, and you prevent those things by having a proper diagnosis of why certain groups might have higher rates of mortality, higher rates of morbidity, et cetera.”

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Smithsonian’s conversation with Barber, who studies how anti-black racism impacts health, about the many ways in which racism is a public health crisis:

When people say, “Racism is a public health problem,” what, in broad strokes, do they mean?

We’ve been observing racial inequities in health for decades in this country. W.E.B. DuBois, who was a sociologist, in The Philadelphia Negro showed mortality rates by race and where people lived in the city of Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century and found striking inequalities based on race. Fast forward to 1985, 35 years ago, and we have the [Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored] Heckler Report, one of the most comprehensive studies the country had undertaken, which again found striking inequalities across a wide range of health outcomes: infant mortality, cancer, stroke, et cetera.

There are various explanations for why these racial inequalities exist, and a lot of those have erroneously focused on either biology or genetics or behavioral aspects, but it’s important to examine the root causes of those inequities, which is structural racism…Racism is a public health problem, meaning racism is at the root of the inequities in health that we see, particularly for blacks in this country. So whether it’s housing, criminal justice, education, wealth, economic opportunities, healthcare, all of these interlocking systems of racism really are the main fundamental drivers of the racial inequities that we see among black Americans.

What are some specific factors or policies that have set the foundations for these health inequities?

Any conversation about racial inequities has to start with a conversation about slavery. We have to go back 400-plus years and really recognize the ways in which the enslavement of African people and people of African descent is the initial insult that set up the system of racism within this country. One of the major drivers that I actually study is the link between racial residential segregation, particularly in our large urban areas, and health inequities. Racial residential segregation is rooted in racist policies that date back at least to the 1930s. Practices such as redlining, which devalued black communities and led to the disinvestment in black communities, were then propped up by practices and policies at the local, the state and federal level, for example, things like restrictive covenants, where blacks were not allowed to move into certain communities; racial terror, where blacks were literally intimidated and run out of white communities when they tried to or attempted to move into better communities; and so many other policies. Even when you get the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the system finds a way to reinvent itself to still perpetuate and maintain racism.

Within segregated communities, you have so many adverse exposures, like poor quality housing or lack of access to affordable, healthy foods, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the list goes on. The chronic stressors within these communities are compounded in segregated communities, which then can lead to a wide array of health outcomes that are detrimental. So for example, in the city of Philadelphia, there’s been work that has shown upwards of a 15-year life expectancy difference between racially and economically segregated communities, black communities and wealthier white communities.

I imagine that sometimes you might get pushback from people who ask about whether you can separate the effects of socioeconomic status and race in these differences in health outcomes.

Yeah, that’s a false dichotomy in some ways. Racism does lead to, in many aspects, lower income, education, wealth. So they’re inextricably linked. However, racism as a system goes beyond socioeconomic status. If we look at what we see in terms of racial inequities in maternal mortality for black women, they are three times times more likely to die compared to white women. This disparity or this inequity is actually seen for black women who have a college degree or more. The disparity is wide, even when you control for socioeconomic status.

Let’s talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. How does racism shape the current health crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has literally just exposed what me and so many of my colleagues have known for decades, but it just puts it in such sharp focus. When you see the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having, particularly for blacks, but also we’re seeing emerging data on Indigenous folks, it is just laying bare the ways racism is operating in this moment to produce those inequities.

Essential workers who had to continue to work during periods of stay at home orders across the country were disproportionately black and Latino. These are also often low wage workers. They weren’t given personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, hazard pay, and really had to choose between being exposed and protecting themselves and having an income during this period. So that’s one way racism operates.

Then we know that those individuals aren’t isolated, that they return to homes that often are crowded because of the lack of affordable housing. Again, another system of racism that compounds the effect. Then you think about places like Flint, Michigan, or places that don’t have access to clean water. When we were telling people, “Wash your hands, social distance,” all of those things, there were people who literally could not adhere to those basic public health prevention measures and still can’t.

So many things were working in tandem together to then increase the risk, and what was frustrating for myself and colleagues was this kind of “blame the victim” narrative that emerged at the very onset, when we saw the racial disparities emerge and folks were saying, “Blacks aren’t washing their hands,” or, “Blacks need to eat better so they have better outcomes in terms of comorbidities and underlying chronic conditions,” when again, all of that’s structured by racism. To go back to your original question, that’s why racism is a public health issue and fundamental, because in the middle of a pandemic, the worst public health crisis in a century, we’re seeing racism operate and racism produce the inequities in this pandemic, and those inequities are striking…

If we had a structural racism lens going into this pandemic, perhaps we would have done things differently. For example, get testing to communities that we know are going to be more susceptible to the virus. We would have done that early on as opposed to waiting, or we would have said, “Well, folks need to have personal protective equipment and paid sick leave and hazard pay.” We would have made that a priority…

The framing [of systemic racism as a public health concern] also dictates the solutions you come up with in order to actually prevent death and suffering. But if your orientation is, “Oh, it’s a personal responsibility” or “It’s behavioral,” then you create messages to black communities to say, “Wash your hands; wear a mask,” and all of these other things that, again, do not address the fundamental structural drivers of the inequities. That’s why it’s a public health issue, because if public health is designed to prevent disease, prevent suffering, then you have to address racism to have the biggest impact.

Can you talk about how police brutality fits into the public health picture?

We have to deal with the literal deaths that happen at the hands of the police, because of a system that is rooted in slavery, but I also think we have to pay attention to the collective trauma that it causes to black communities. In the midst of a pandemic that’s already traumatic to watch the deaths due to COVID-19, [communities] then have to bear witness to literal lynchings and murders and that trauma. There’s really good scholarship on the kind of spillover effects of police brutality that impact the lives of whole communities because of the trauma of having to witness this kind of violence that then does not get met with any kind of justice.

It reinforces this idea that one, our lives are disposable, that black lives really don’t matter, because the whole system upholds this kind of violence and this kind of oppression, particularly for black folks. I’ve done studies on allostatic load [the wear and tear on the body as a result of chronic stress] and what it does, the dysregulation that happens. So just think about living in a society that’s a constant source of stress, chronic stress, and how that wreaks havoc on blacks and other marginalized racial groups as well.

 

 

 

 

How The Rapid Shift To Telehealth Leaves Many Community Health Centers Behind During The COVID-19 Pandemic

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200529.449762/full/

How to reduce the impact of coronavirus on our lives - The ...

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the landscape of ambulatory care with rapid shifts to telehealth. Well-resourced hospitals have quickly made the transition. Community health centers (CHCs), which serve more than 28 million low-income and disproportionately uninsured patients in rural and underserved urban areas of the United States, have not fared as well since ambulatory visits have disappearedresulting in furloughs, layoffs, and more than 1,900 temporary site closures throughout the country. Government officials have taken notice, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act infused $1.32 billion toward COVID-19 response and maintaining CHC capacity.

Many states have directed insurers to temporarily cover COVID-19-related services via telehealth while mandating parity of reimbursement for telehealth visits with in-person visits for their Medicaid program.

Preparedness Of Community Health Centers For Telehealth

Despite the changes, many health centers may not be ready to implement high-quality telehealth. study using 2016 data showed that only 38 percent of CHCs used any telehealth. In our review of 2018 Uniform Data System data—the most recent available—from a 100 percent sample of US CHCs, we found that our nation’s health centers are largely unprepared for this transformation.

Across the US, 56 percent of 1,330 CHCs did not have any telehealth use in 2018 (exhibit 1). Of those without telehealth use, only about one in five were in the process of actively implementing or exploring telehealth. Meanwhile, 47 percent of the centers using telehealth were doing so only with specialists such as those at referral centers, rather than with patients. Of those using telehealth, the majority (68 percent) used it to provide mental health services; fewer used it for primary care (30 percent) or management of chronic conditions (21 percent), suggesting that most CHCs with telehealth capabilities prior to COVID-19 were not using it for the most frequent types of services provided at CHCs.

CHCs not using telehealth reported several barriers to implementation (exhibit 2). Thirty-six percent cited lack of reimbursement, 23 percent lacked funding for equipment, and 21 percent lacked training for providing telehealth. Although most barriers were similar in both urban and rural regions, a greater proportion of rural clinics compared to urban clinics (18 percent versus 7 percent) reported inadequate broadband services as an issue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the enormous disparities in telehealth capacity. Without adequate telehealth capacity and support, many CHCs will be left without means of providing the continuous preventive and chronic disease care that can keep communities healthy and out of the hospital. During the crisis, the Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that CHCs have seen 57 percent of the number of weekly visits compared to pre-COVID-19 visit rates, 51 percent of which have been conducted virtually, suggesting that many CHC patients have forgone care that they would have otherwise received. Given CHCs serve a disproportionate share of low-income, racial/ethnic minority, and immigrant populations—populations hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic—any disruption to CHC capacity may exacerbate the racial disparities that have rapidly emerged.

While an important first step, policy makers cannot simply infuse more funding to CHCs and expect them to withstand the challenges of the COVID-19 era. We recommend three targeted strategies to help CHCs adapt and perhaps even thrive beyond COVID-19: legislate permanent parity in telehealth reimbursement for all insurers; allocate sufficient funding and guidance for telehealth equipment, personnel, training, and protocols; and implement telehealth systems tailored to vulnerable populations.

Permanent All-Payer Parity For Telehealth Reimbursement

Payment parity—where telehealth is reimbursed at the same level as an in-person visit—is a crucial issue that must be addressed and instituted beyond the current public health emergency. Without commensurate reimbursement for telehealth, CHCs cannot maintain patient volume or make the long-term investments necessary to remain financially viable. A “global budget” of paying CHCs a fixed payment per patient per month would give practices flexibility in how and where to treat the patient, although this may be politically and practically challenging. Meanwhile, payment parity has already been implemented and could simply be permanently codified into existing reimbursement schemes, giving providers the option to select the best mode of treatment without making financial trade-offs.

In reviewing state telehealth policies during COVID-19, all states have implemented temporary executive orders or released guidance on telehealth access—although with significant variations. At least 22 states have explicitly implemented telehealth parity for Medicaid. For Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded access to telehealth beyond designated rural areas, loosened HIPAA requirements around telehealth platforms, and instituted parity in reimbursement with in-person visits.

To build on these significant steps, states should mandate telehealth parity across all payers and cover all services provided at CHCs, not just COVID-19-related care. At least 12 states have mandated all-payer parity for telehealth. Meanwhile, private insurers have individually adjusted telehealth policies on a state-by-state basis if there was no statewide mandate. Nevertheless, all payers should reimburse at parity given the patchwork quilt of insurance plans that exists at CHCs.

Furthermore, state legislatures and CMS should look to extend parity beyond the current COVID-19 emergency so that CHCs can make sustainable investments that continue to benefit patients. Even as states reopen, in-person visits are unlikely to return to their previous volume as the threat of infection continues to loom. Temporary measures should be made permanent so that CHCs can make sustainable investments that continue to benefit patients.

Funding And Guidance For Equipment, Personnel, Training, And Protocols

For telehealth to function smoothly and reduce errors, proper hardware and software are critical, including telephone service, computers, broadband internet access, and electronic health records. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released funding to procure telehealth services and devices and some CHCs have received private funding; similar targeted funding mechanisms from states and the federal government are necessary at scale to equip hundreds of CHCs with the necessary telehealth capabilities.

However, merely having technology is not sufficient. Proper personnel with appropriate training are key to a high-functioning telehealth system along with support from information technology specialists. Additionally, CHCs need ancillary systems in place to allow for the effective use of phone and video visits. Empanelment systems to attribute patients to providers can allow for longitudinal follow-up even with telehealth. Daily huddles and team-based care can enhance the inherent complexities of coordinating care remotely. Protocols should be tailored for different specialties and services such as nutrition management and social work. Meanwhile, a robust e-consult referral network should allow primary care providers at CHCs to easily connect patients to specialty care when necessary. Adding robust protocols and systems will allow for the successful implementation and scaling of telehealth.

For example, groups of CHCs called the Health Center Controlled Networks (HCCNs), which have traditionally collaborated to leverage health information technology, are positioned to harness their economies of scale and group purchasing power to widely adopt new infrastructure while standardizing protocols. They could be a means to accelerate the adoption of telehealth technologies, trainings, and care models to optimize the use of telehealth across CHCs.

Telehealth Support For Vulnerable Patients

The patient population seen by CHCs presents unique challenges that not all ambulatory practices, particularly those in affluent neighborhoods, may face. Health centers care for many immigrant patients with limited English proficiency. Thus, clinics need financial support to contract with telehealth interpreter and translation services to provide equitable access and care. Better yet, all telehealth platforms contracting with CHCs should be required to provide multilingual support to deliver equitable access to telehealth services.

Moreover, many low-income patients lack health and digital literacy. Virtual telehealth platforms should design applications such that interfaces are intuitive and easy to navigate. They should provide specialized support to guide patients who are not familiar with telehealth systems. Additionally, insurers can reimburse CHCs that provide patient navigators, care coordinators, and shared decision-making support that bridge the health literacy divide.

Many around the US also do not have access to high-speed internet, consistent telephone services, and phones or computers with video conferencing capabilities. First, to allow for flexible access to telehealth for all patients, insurers should permanently waive geographic and originating site restrictions that limit the type and location of facilities from which patients can use telehealth. Second, insurers should waive audio-video requirements and consistently reimburse for phone-only visits to accommodate patients without video conferencing. Third, the type of services covered by telehealth should be expanded—ranging from primary care to physical therapy to nutrition counseling to behavioral health.

To address disparities in ownership of digital devices, taking a page out of the book of educators in low-income neighborhoods, local governments could loan laptops and smartphones or supply internet hotspots and phone-charging stations for these communities to enable access. Additionally, insurers could reimburse for the FCC Lifeline program to provide affordable communication services and cellular data to low-income populations to maintain their outpatient care.

Conclusions

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the US, health care delivery will never be the same. Health centers are struggling as many have been largely unprepared for the abrupt swing toward telehealth. COVID-19 may pose long-lasting damaging effects on CHCs and the patient populations that they serve. Nonspecific federal and state funding will allow CHCs to survive; however, deliberate action is needed to enhance telehealth capacities and ensure long-term resilience.

Similar to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ recent letter to CMS to make various telehealth changes permanent, both CMS and state governments should take immediate action by making permanent parity in reimbursement for telehealth services by all payers. State and federal policy should direct payers to lift onerous restrictions on the types of services covered via telehealth, audio/video requirements, and geographic and originating sites of telehealth services. States and payers should also explore innovative solutions to expand access to cellular data services and digital devices that allow low-income patients to digitally “get to their appointment,” similar to non-emergency medical transportation. Local governments should invest in digital infrastructure that expands broadband coverage and provides internet or cellular access points for people to engage in telehealth. Additionally, CHCs should come together under HCCNs to harness their group purchasing power to rapidly implement telehealth infrastructure that provides multilingual support and other tools that bridge gaps in digital literacy. Finally, best practices, trainings, and protocols should be standardized and disseminated across CHC networks to optimize the quality of telehealth.  

By reorienting the goals for implementing telehealth, policy makers, payers, and providers can empower health centers to thrive into the future and meet the nation’s underserved patients where they are, even during the pandemic. In the long run, telehealth can increase access and equity—but only if the right investments are made now to fill the gaps laid bare by COVID-19.

 

 

 

 

Healthcare groups call racism a ‘public health’ concern in wake of tensions over police brutality

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/healthcare-groups-denounce-systemic-racism-wake-tensions-over-police-brutality?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWmpobE5XVmlaRGd6T0dFdyIsInQiOiJsQmxnbVNxNVlISVNkczJIZkJXb3ZFZG9tVlpMblZ1XC9oVVB6SlRINzNhOXE4MWQzNk1cL3JTaDlcL2l0MGdhSnk0NUtqY1RzdThCN1wvZ1ZoVUxqOHJwZFJcL1wvK3FtS0o5NFwvSHA0WHhTUnhVNnY3bk5RNmhRQTdxYzYwclhYN3JTRW8ifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

After days of protests across the world against police brutality toward minorities sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, healthcare groups are speaking out against the impact of “systemic racism” on public health.

“These ongoing protests give voice to deep-seated frustration and hurt and the very real need for systemic change. The killings of George Floyd last week, and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor earlier this year, among others, are tragic reminders to all Americans of the inequities in our nation,” Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), said in a statement.

As places of healing, hospitals have an important role to play in the wellbeing of their communities. As we’ve seen in the pandemic, communities of color have been disproportionately affected, both in infection rates and economic impact,” Pollack said. “The AHA’s vision is of a society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health … to achieve that vision, we must address racial, ethnic and cultural inequities, including those in health care, that are everyday realities for far too many individuals. While progress has been made, we have so much more work to do.”

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) also decried the public health inequality highlighted by the dual crises.

“The violent interactions between law enforcement officers and the public, particularly people of color, combined with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on these same communities, puts in perspective the overall public health consequences of these actions and overall health inequity in the U.S.,” SHEA said in a statement. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) executives called for health organizations to do more to address inequities. 

“Over the past three months, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the racial health inequities harming our black communities, exposing the structures, systems, and policies that create social and economic conditions that lead to health disparities, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancy,” said David Skorton, M.D., AAMC president and CEO, and David Acosta, M.D., AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer, in a statement.

“Now, the brutal and shocking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shaken our nation to its core and once again tragically demonstrated the everyday danger of being black in America,” they said. “Police brutality is a striking demonstration of the legacy racism has had in our society over decades.”

They called on health system leaders, faculty researchers and other healthcare staff to take a stronger role in speaking out against forms of racism, discrimination and bias. They also called for health leaders to educate themselves, partner with local agencies to dismantle structural racism and employ anti-racist training.

 

 

 

“All policy is health policy”

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-8873028c-f37e-4712-a53a-ae324c56dbb6.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

PPT - Health in All Policies PowerPoint Presentation, free ...

The effects of racism are often inseparable from black Americans’ health and well-being, as “black communities bear the physical burdens of centuries of injustice, toxic exposures, racism, and white supremacist violence,” Rachel Hardeman, Eduardo Medina and Rhea Boyd write in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Any solution to racial health inequities must be rooted in the material conditions in which those inequities thrive. Therefore, we must insist that for the health of the black community and, in turn, the health of the nation, we address the social, economic, political, legal, educational, and health care systems that maintain structural racism. Because as the Covid-19 pandemic so expeditiously illustrated, all policy is health policy…

The response to the pandemic has made at least one thing clear: systemic change can in fact happen overnight.

 

Providers show support amid unrest: #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/providers-show-support-amid-unrest-whitecoatsforblacklives/579020/

Dive Brief:

  • The American Hospital Association on Monday condemned what they called the “senseless killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis,” referring to George Floyd, who died more than a week ago after a police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. AHA said the group’s vision is a “society of healthy communities, where ALL individuals reach their highest potential for health.”
  • Medical societies, providers and other healthcare organizations weighed in to support peaceful protests, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a light on racial inequities in access to healthcare and job security in America.
  • Health officials also expressed worry that the protest gatherings could further spread of the novel coronavirus. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said hospitals in the state could be overwhelmed. And some COVID-19 testing sites have been shut down for safety reasons, further exacerbating concerns.

Dive Insight:

Since protests and occasionally violent police confrontations in recent days were sparked by Floyd’s death, providers have taken to social media with notes of support and pictures of themselves taking a knee in their scrubs under the hashtag #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives.

The American Medical Association responded to ongoing unrest Friday, saying the harm of police violence is “elevated amidst the remarkable stress people are facing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Board Chair Jesse Ehrenfeld and Patrice Harris, AMA’s first African American woman to be president, continued: “This violence not only contributes to the distrust of law enforcement by marginalized communities but distrust in the larger structure of government including for our critically important public health infrastructure. The disparate racial impact of police violence against Black and Brown people and their communities is insidiously viral-like in its frequency, and also deeply demoralizing, irrespective of race/ethnicity, age, LGBTQ or gender.”

Other organizations weighed in, including CommonSpirit Health, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Physicians and several medical colleges.

The nascent research and data from the pandemic in the U.S. have shown people of color are more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people. The reasons behind that are myriad and complex, but many can be traced back to systemic inequality in social services and the healthcare system.

Payers, providers and other healthcare organizations have attempted to address these issues through programs targeting social determinants of health like stable housing, food security and access to transportation.

But despite these efforts over several years to recognize and document the disparities, they have persisted and in some cases widened, Samantha Artiga, director of the Disparities Policy Project at the Kaiser Family Foundation, noted in a blog post Monday.

Health disparities, including disparities related to COVID-19, are symptoms of broader underlying social and economic inequities that reflect structural and systemic barriers and biases across sectors,” she wrote.

Providers have waded into political issues affecting them before, including gun violence. Several organizations also objected to the Trump administration’s decision to cut ties with the World Health Organization in the midst of the pandemic.

The American Public Health Association in late 2018 called law enforcement violence a public health issue.

 

 

 

 

Health Equity Principles for State and Local Leaders in Responding to, Reopening and Recovering from COVID-19

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2020/05/health-equity-principles-for-state-and-local-leaders-in-responding-to-reopening-and-recovering-from-covid-19.html

Centering Health Equity in COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plans ...

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.”

COVID-19 has unleashed a dual threat to health equity in the United States: a pandemic that has sickened millions and killed tens of thousands and counting, and an economic downturn that has resulted in tens of millions of people losing jobs—the highest numbers since the Great Depression. The COVID pandemic underscores that:

  • Our health is inextricably linked to that of our neighbors, family members, child- and adult-care providers, co-workers, school teachers, delivery service people, grocery store clerks, factory workers, and first responders, among others;
  • Our current health care, public health, and economic systems do not adequately or equitably protect our well-being as a nation; and
  • Every community is experiencing harm, though certain groups are suffering disproportionately, including people of color, workers with low incomes, and people living in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn.

For communities and their residents to recover fully and fairly, state and local leaders should consider the following health equity principles in designing and implementing their responses. These principles are not a detailed public health guide for responding to the pandemic or reopening the economy, but rather a compass that continually points leaders toward an equitable and lasting recovery.

 

Collect, analyze, and report data disaggregated by age, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, neighborhood, and other sociodemographic characteristics.

Pandemics and economic recessions exacerbate disparities that ultimately hurt us all. Therefore, state and local leaders cannot design equitable response and recovery strategies without monitoring COVID’s impacts among socially and economically marginalized groups.¹ Data disaggregation should follow best practices and extend not only to public health data on COVID cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities, but also to: measures of access to testing, treatment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safe places to isolate when sick; receipt of social and economic supports; and the downstream consequences of COVID on well-being, ranging from housing instability to food insecurity.

Geographic identifiers would allow leaders and the public to understand the interplay between place and social factors, as counties with large black populations account for more than half of all COVID deaths, and rural communities and post-industrial cities generally fare worse in economic downturns. Legal mandates for data disaggregation are proliferating, but 11 states are still not reporting COVID deaths by race; 16 are not reporting by gender; and 26 are not reporting based on congregate living status (e.g., nursing homes, jails). Only three are reporting testing data by race and ethnicity.

While states and cities can do more, the federal government should also support data disaggregation through funding and national standards.

Include in decision-making the people most affected by health and economic challenges, and benchmark progress based on their outcomes.

Our communities are stronger, more stable, and more prosperous when every person, including the most disadvantaged residents, is healthy and financially secure. Throughout the response and recovery, state and local leaders should ask: Are we making sure that people facing the greatest risks have access to PPE, testing and treatment, stable housing, and a way to support their families? And, are we creating ways for residents—particularly those hardest hit—to meaningfully participate in and shape the government’s recovery strategy?

Accordingly, policymakers should create space for leaders from these communities to be at decision-making tables and should regularly consult with community-based organizations that can identify barriers to accessing health and social services, lift up grassroots solutions, and disseminate public health guidance in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. For example, they could recommend trusted, accessible locations for new testing sites and advise on how to diversify the pool of contact tracers, who will be crucial to tamping down the spread of infection in reopened communities. They could also collaborate with government leaders to ensure that all people who are infected with coronavirus (or exposed to someone infected) have a safe, secure, and acceptable place to isolate or quarantine for 14 days. Key partners could include community health centers, small business associations, community organizing groups, and workers’ rights organizations, among others. Ultimately, state and local leaders should measure the success of their response based not only on total death counts and aggregate economic impacts but also on the health and social outcomes of the most marginalized.

Establish and empower teams dedicated to promoting racial equity in response and recovery efforts.

Race or ethnicity should not determine anyone’s opportunity for good health or social well-being, but, as COVID has shown, we are far from this goal. People of color are more likely to be front-line workers, to live in dense or overcrowded housing, to lack health insurance, and to experience chronic diseases linked to unhealthy environments and structural racism. Therefore, state and local leaders should empower dedicated teams to address COVID-related racial disparities, as several leaders, Republican and Democrat, have already done.

To be effective, these entities should: include leaders of color from community, corporate, academic, and philanthropic sectors; be integrated as key members of the broader public health and economic recovery efforts; and be accountable to the public. These teams should foster collaboration between state, local, and tribal governments to assist Native communities; anticipate and mitigate negative consequences of current response strategies, such as bias in enforcement of public health guidelines; address racial discrimination within the health care system; and ensure access to tailored mental health services for people of color and immigrants who are experiencing added trauma, stigma, and fear. Ultimately, resources matter. State and local leaders must ensure that critical health and social supports are distributed fairly, proportionate to need, and free of undue restrictions to meet the needs of all groups, including black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous communities.

 

Proactively identify and address existing policy gaps while advocating for further federal support.

The Congressional response to COVID has been historic in its scope and speed, but significant gaps remain. Additional federal resources are needed for a broad range of health and social services, along with fiscal relief for states and communities facing historically large budget deficits due to COVID. Despite these challenges, state and local leaders must still find ways to take targeted policy actions. The following questions can help guide their response.

Who is left out?Inclusion of all populations will strengthen the public health response and lessen the pandemic’s economic fallout for all of society, but federal actions to date have not included all who have been severely harmed by the pandemic. As a result, many states and communities have sought to fill gaps in eviction protections and paid sick and caregiving leave. Others are extending support to undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families through public-private partnerships, faith-based charities, and community-led mutual aid systems. Vital health care providers, including safety net hospitals and Indian Health Service facilities, have also been disadvantaged and need targeted support.

Will protections last long enough?Many programs, such as expanded Medicaid funding, are tied to the federal declaration of a public health emergency, which will likely end before the economic crisis does. Other policies, like enhanced unemployment insurance and mortgage relief, are set to expire on arbitrary dates. And still others, such as stimulus checks, were one-time payments. Instead, policy extensions should be tied to the extent of COVID infection in a state or community (or its anticipated spread) and/or to broader economic measures such as unemployment. This is particularly important as communities will likely experience re-openings and closings over the next six to 12 months as COVID reemerges.

Have programs that meet urgent needs been fully and fairly implemented?Allexisting federal resources should be used in a time of great need. For example, additional states should adopt provisions that would allow families with school-age children to receive added Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and more communities need innovative solutions to provide meals to young children who relied on schools or child care providers for breakfast and lunch. States should also revise eligibility, enrollment, and recertification processes that deter Medicaid use by children, pregnant women, and lawfully residing immigrants.

Invest in strengthening public health, health care, and social infrastructure to foster resilience.

Health, public health, and social infrastructure are critical for recovery and for our survival of the next pandemic, severe weather event, or economic downturn. A comprehensive public health system is the first line of defense for rural, tribal, and urban communities. While a sizable federal reinvestment in public health is needed, states and communities must also reverse steady cuts to the public health workforce and laboratory and data systems.

Everyone in this country should have paid sick and family leave to care for themselves and loved ones; comprehensive health insurance to ensure access to care when sick and to protect against medical debt; and jobs and social supports that enable families to meet their basic needs and invest in the future. As millions are projected to lose employer-sponsored health insurance, Medicaid expansion becomes increasingly vital for its proven ability to boost health, reduce disparities, and provide a strong return on investment. In the longer term, policies such as earned income tax credits and wage increases for low-wage workers can help secure economic opportunity and health for all. Finally, states and communities should invest in affordable, accessible high-speed internet, which is crucial to ensuring that everyone—not just the most privileged among us—is informed, connected to schools and jobs, and engaged civically.

These principles can guide our nation toward an equitable response and recovery and help sow the seeds of long-term, transformative change. States and cities have begun imagining and, in some cases, advancing toward this vision, putting a down payment on a fair and just future in which health equity is a reality. Returning to the ways things were is not an option.