WASHINGTON — A panel of health policy experts Tuesday told congressional staff members and policy professionals that, while health care reform could play a powerful role in reducing health disparities between minorities and Whites, major policy reform in areas such as housing, transportation, agriculture and labor will also prove necessary to close the health care gap.
“We need multiple strategies across a variety of sectors. These are not just problems for public health; these are problems for the housing sector, the transportation sector and others,” said Dr. Brian Smedley, vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Speaking before an audience of nearly 100 attendees, Smedley joined other health policy panelists at the “Beyond Health Care Reform: Health & Equity in All Policies” discussion at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The Disparity Reducing Advance (DRA) Project and the Congressional Black Caucus Health Brain Trust convened the discussion, which included remarks from Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen, D-V.I., a physician and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Brain Trust.
In addition to Smedley and Christensen, Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute, and Adolph Falcon, senior vice president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, served as discussion panelists.
“This meeting reflects the recognition that health care only accounts for a small part in overall differences in health, 10 to 25 percent. There is a growing movement in various areas to say that health is affected by all policy … and each of the speakers leads very significant efforts to understand the impact of transportation, housing, crime and justice policy on health and health disparities,” said Dr. Clement Bezold, chair and founder of the Institute for Alternative Futures. “Health is affected by all policies and the flip side is that we need to consider that as we develop new policies.”
The Alexandria, Va.-based institute developed and launched the DRA Project, a multiyear campaign with 69 organization partners working “to identify the most promising advances for bringing health gains to the poor and underserved and accelerating the development and deployment of these advances to reduce disparities,” according to the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF).
“Health disparities in the U.S. are significant and often not perceived as such. At the same time, there’s a growing sense that we should have health equity and that avoidable differences and unfairness should be eliminated,” Bezold told Diverse.
Smedley said the segregated communities where many poor African-Americans and Hispanics live are places that have the worst environmental conditions, the poorest delivery of social services, the fewest grocery stores and the worst public schools, thus leading to the poor health outcomes for residents in those areas.
“Segregation is associated with poor cognitive, health and life outcomes. This kind of segregation can set people up for poor health.” Smedley told the discussion audience.