By Kate Blackman
As the coronavirus continues to shine a light on longstanding health disparities, NCSL convened a new bipartisan advisory group to provide guidance on how NCSL can best support legislators and legislative staff as they address health disparities and health equity issues in their states.
Through a partnership between the Quad Caucus and NCSL’s Health Program, NCSL is bringing together 16 lawmakers from across the country for the Health Equity Advisory Group. The group will meet throughout 2021 to guide NCSL staff on specific issues to address in terms of health disparities and health equity and offer ideas on needed resources related to disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic.
As state policymakers tackled health disparities through policies addressing everything from health workforce and maternal mortality to social determinants of health and racism as a public health crisis, the timing of this advisory group is especially relevant.
COVID-19 has disrupted access to care, ranging from behavioral health services to screening and treatment for cancer and other chronic conditions, which could further exacerbate health disparities and long-term health outcomes and costs. Meanwhile, states are racing to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine amid equity concerns for communities of color. These communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and may be hesitant to receive a vaccine.
Health disparities can be found in the United States based on age, sex, race, income, disability status, sexual orientation, language, geographic location and other factors.
The advisory group began exploring health disparities and equity at its first meeting in late January. Legislators shared concerns around disparities in access to health care, such as shortages of health care workers and facilities in certain communities and costs of care as well as concerns about specific populations such as Native Americans, immigrants and agricultural workers.
The advisory group is made up of legislators who are members of health committees, the Quad Caucus and/or NCSL’s Health and Human Services Committee. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL), the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), and the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (NCNASL) are collectively referred to as the Quad Caucus.
The advisory group and several other activities on this topic, such as a recent webinar and legislative tracking, are supported by Amgen, which also sponsors an annual Health Equity Summit.
Kate Blackman directs NCSL’s Health Program.