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Updated HHS Health Equity Action Plan Focuses on Care Access

The 2023 update to the Health Equity Action Plan stresses equitable care access, plus maternal health equity and postpartum care.

HHS has unveiled the 2023 update to its Health Equity Action Plan, hitting key points like childhood health and well-being, equitable access to care, and maternal and infant health equity, among other things.

The plan update comes mandated as part of President Joe Biden’s whole-of-government equity agenda elucidated in Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.

Under the Executive Order, the Biden-Harris Administration charged each government agency, including HHS, to create an action plan for advancing equity and to provide periodic updates.

The 2023 update to the HHS plan stresses the importance of equitable access to high-quality healthcare, according to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

“Equity is at the heart of every investment we make, and every initiative we take on. Nobody in this country should be left out or left behind because of where they live, their income, education level, or background,” Becerra said in a statement.

“This plan helps to continue our shift from a health system focused on illness-care to one focused on wellness-care,” he continued. “HHS continues to expand access to quality, affordable health care, as well as support for people struggling with behavioral health challenges, while also ensuring that our science is both innovative and inclusive.”

The 2023 update to the Health Equity Action Plan hits on five key points, including:

  • Prevent neglect and improve care to help children thrive in their families and communities. 
  • Promote accessible and welcoming health care for all. 
  • Improve maternal health outcomes for rural, racial, and ethnic minority communities. 
  • Prioritize the behavioral health of underserved populations. 
  • Increase clinical research and trial diversity to support innovation. 

HHS developed the Equity Action Plan using community listening sessions and connecting with individuals directly impacted by or interested in health equity issues. HHS also conducted grantee and research community discussions, Tribal consultations, and extended formal written invitations for comment.

In addition to the updated Equity Action Plan, HHS also reviewed the key steps it’s taken toward health equity and racial justice. For example, the agency has proposed rules about language access, stressing patient rights to medical interpreters and other language assistance for those with limited English proficiency (LEP).

The agency said it has also proposed rules to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Specifically, HHS said it has updated provisions of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to help persons with disabilities access health and human services.

Finally, the agency touched on its progress toward maternal health equity, stating that it has approved 42 states, DC, and the Virgin Islands to enact 12-month postpartum Medicaid coverage through CMS.

Relatedly, the agency has also announced the winners of its HHS Racial Equity in Postpartum Care Challenge.

The competition challenged participants to boost equity in postpartum care for Black or African American and American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) women enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). HHS hosted the competition as a part of the President’s Unity Agenda and the White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis.

“Under President Biden and Vice President Harris' leadership and call to action, we've worked tirelessly to improve maternity care across the country -- particularly for those who haven't had access to the high-quality care every new and expecting mother deserves. What heartens us most at CMS are the stronger connections we're forging to access coverage and care for families,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure stated publicly.

“These prizes bear witness to our past accomplishments and future aspirations, and the innovators who are building the bridge between both. We're proud and thankful to work with them.”

The competition had two phases, the first of which required participants to pitch programs that could increase access to, attendance at, and quality of care for postpartum visits for Black and AI/AN Medicaid and CHIP enrollees.

The second phase assessed how successful those programs were. The cash prizes are intended to help the programs to continue operations.

Winners include:

  • Benten Technologies (PA)
  • Center for Women’s Mental Health (Johns Hopkins) (MD)
  • Mammha at Children’s National Medical Center (Washington, DC)
  • Emagine Solutions Technology, LLC (AZ)
  • Healthy Hearts Plus II (VA)
  • Heart Safe Motherhood Institution: Penn Medicine (PA)
  • Northwell Health, Inc. (NY)
  • The Maternal Health Program: CyncHealth, PointClickCare, and Innsena (NE, IA)
  • Women’s Hospital (LA)
  • Yale School of Medicine Community Health Care Van; Mother Infant Program (MIP) (CT)

“Health equity and access to care are top priorities for my office and are foundational to addressing maternal health disparities in our country,” Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine said in the press release. “Maternal health equity is fundamental to everything that we're doing under HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra's leadership and through the Biden-Harris administration. We’re working tirelessly to improve these disparities through this program and many others.”

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