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From Health Law Daily, September 9, 2015

CMS plan seeks to reduce disparities in Medicare

By Patricia K. Ruiz, J.D.

CMS’ newly announced Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare aims to focus on six priority areas and reduce health disparities in four years. The Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare focuses on Medicare populations experiencing disproportionately high burdens of disease, lower quality of care, and barriers to accessing care, which includes racial and ethnic minorities, as well as sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas. The reduction of disparities has been identified as a priority within key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), including Section 4302, which addresses data collection and analysis relating to health disparities.

The Plan is intended to improve understanding and awareness of disparities to create solutions and implement sustainable actions and evaluating processes. The Plan’s priorities, which are designed to evolve with the changing health care environment, are (1) expanding the collection, reporting, and analysis of standardized data; (2) evaluating disparities impacts and integrating equity solutions across CMS programs; (3) developing and disseminating promising approaches to reduce health disparities; (4) increasing the ability of the health care workforce to meet the needs of vulnerable populations; (5) improving communication and language access for individuals with limited English proficiency and persons with disabilities; and (6) increasing physical accessibility of health care facilities.

“Making sure care is equitable is often the forgotten core area of focus for ensuring that the health system is meeting patient needs and delivering high quality care,” said Cara James, the director of the CMS Office of Minority Health. “The CMS Equity Plan for Medicare will help to ensure that as we work towards better care, smarter spending, and healthier people we also continue to work to achieve health equity in Medicare.”

To identify actions to take in reducing health disparities, CMS sought perspectives from “visionaries and thought leaders in health equity” in addition to experts in CMS programs and levers, on the most significant disparities in health care quality as well as the drivers of those disparities, barriers to implementing successful disparity reduction strategies, promising practices not yet reflected in published literature, opportunities for CMS to accelerate equity action, and potential partners for achieving disparity reducing goals.

“We know that in order to achieve the goals of the plan, we need to work with many stakeholders, and we hope that as we start to implement the activities in the plan, we will see a number of them join us on the path to equity,” James said.

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