Massachusetts Lawmakers Seek To Restore Budget Funding To Establish State Health Equity Office
Some Massachusetts lawmakers hoping a budget amendment will fund the creation of a state office to address racial and ethnic health disparities, the Waltham Daily News Tribune reports. Money for the office was one of several spending proposals the state House Ways and Means Committee cut from Gov. Deval Patrick's (D) proposed $28 billion budget last week.
The state Commission to End Racial Health Disparities recommended establishment of the office last year after completion of a three-year study that found that disparities in transportation, housing, education, labor and public safety contribute to higher infant mortality rates and lower quality of care among minorities compared with whites. The commission recommended that the health equity office, which would be directed under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, track racial and ethnic health disparities identified in the study, set goals and work with community health agencies to reduce gaps in care and address other issues related to the study's findings. According to the News Tribune, House budget leaders "put $1 million that would have addressed the study findings on the chopping block."
State Rep. Byron Rushing (D) has filed a $750,000 budget amendment to create the office, but "with lawmakers planning to increase cigarette and business taxes to close the budget gap, no one is sure exactly which, or how many, of the 1,512 budget amendments will make the cut," the News Tribune reports. State Rep. Peter Koutoujian (D), who served on the commission, said, "I'm frustrated we can't do more, but I'm heartened by the effort the administration has put in even without this special office," adding, "Even $750,000 would be ambitious. Anything to begin the program would be significant." Joseph Betancourt, director of the Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and a contributor to the commission's study, said the creation of the health equity office is essential to state agencies' ability to establish best practices and coordinate existing efforts related to health disparities. "We really have an opportunity here to continue our leadership," Betancourt said, adding, "This office will really be the quarterback for the entire process" (Parietti, Waltham Daily News Tribune, 4/22).