This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) describe a action plan promote health equity. CMS’s vision focuses on changing both the agency itself and encouraging health leaders to make their own commitments to advance health equity.
CMS defines health equity as “the attainment of the highest standard of health for all, where everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity to attain their optimum state of health, regardless of race, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, preferred language and other factors that influence access to care and health outcomes.
Despite Medicare’s progress in reducing disparities in insurance coverage, challenges persist. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many underlying structural issues, often leaving racial and ethnic minorities with poorer outcomes, poorer health, more chronic illnesses, higher rates of COVID infection and higher death rates. There is also an urgent need to reduce sexual orientation and gender discrimination in health care. Many LGBTQ+ people have significant difficulties in finding competent and willing service providersand LGBTQ+ people over the age of 50 are particularly likely to experience pronounced health disparities.
CMS’s new strategy includes several agency-wide goals to help address this issue, such as closing gaps in health care access, quality, and outcomes for underserved populations; promote culturally and linguistically appropriate services; increase the reach of registrations; and expand and standardize the collection and use of data, including on race, ethnicity, preferred language, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, income and geography.
In addition, CMS highlighted the objectives and strategies of its various sub-agencies. For example, the Minority Health Office will continue to play an important role in providing technical assistance, training materials and awareness raising activities to improve services and access to care.
For its part, the equity work outlined by the Center for Medicare includes proposals to require information in multiple languages and give beneficiaries more information so they can evaluate Medicare Advantage and Part D plans on their performance on health equity measures.
The Medicare-Medicaid Coordinating Office – the office that ensures that people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid have access to appropriate care – points to potential improvements in coordination between the two programs and in the awareness on Health savings programsthat help low-income people pay better for their coverage and care.
Other CMS divisions, including Medicaid, the Center for Innovation, and the office that oversees the Affordable Care Act plans, also include their specific goals and actions.
At Medicare Rights, we are encouraged by this focus on equity and ensuring that all people have access to the coverage and care they need to improve their well-being, health, and financial security. We applaud these steps and urge CMS to continue this important work.