Ultrino, House Vote to Pass Bill Addressing Health Disparities

BOSTON – State Representative Steve Ultrino (D – Malden) voted in support of a bill to create a state Office of Health Equity which passed in the House this past Wednesday. The office will work to address long-standing differences in health outcomes between the general public, and racial and low-income people.

Representative Ultrino touted the bill’s expected impact on Malden, which has a high population of low-income residents, as well as vibrant and diverse minority communities.

“Health care has always been an important issue for me, and for the residents of Malden,” said Representative Ultrino. “This bill will help bridge the gaps in our current system and ensure that your income and race do not hurt your ability to be in good health.”

The bill addresses current inequalities in health care that minorities and people of a lower income face.  The Office of Health Equity will be in charge of research that will improve technologies available to lower income areas, while consulting current programs, data, and services within the Massachusetts health care system to determine where improvement can be made.  Reducing barriers to care and increasing the involvement of minority health care officials and students are also key goals of the bill.

“Research shows that cultural differences and language barriers can hinder quality and access to health care, even when health insurance is the same,” said Representative Ultrino.  “This is unacceptable, and I am proud to have voted for this bill in the Health Care Financing Committee and again on the House floor this week.”

More than 60 health care researchers and providers voiced their support for the bill in a letter to the House on Tuesday.  “…[R]esidents of color still face (sic) disproportionately higher rates of chronic disease and mortality than do residents of [Massachusetts] as a whole…Research shows that while access to medical care is important, social and environmental factors are even more critical in determining a person’s health,” the Disparities Action Network wrote.

The Office of Health Equity was created in 2009, but has never had the dedicated funding or staffing needed to make a change.  The bill (H 3969), passed on a 154-3 vote, allots the necessary funding to make the office permanent.   

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Malden’s state senator, Jason Lewis (D – Winchester) is the lead sponsor.