Special to The Monitor

March 21, 2012

Contact: John Clayton
VP, Communications
New Hampshire Hospital Association

Timed for March 23 Release

NH Health & Equity Partnership Applauds Affordable Care Act Initiatives

By Peter Janelle/For the Monitor

CONCORD – This week, the NH Health & Equity Partnership is celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and all that it has done – and will do – to create healthier communities here in New Hampshire.

Understanding and fighting unnecessary and avoidable differences in health between social groups is paramount to creating healthier communities, and it is a singular focus of the Affordable Care Act. On March 23, the day of the second anniversary of the law, new requirements now in place for any ongoing or new Federal health programs to collect and report racial, ethnic, gender, language and disability status data.

By collecting this information, health leaders will be better able to understand and take measures to reduce persistent health disparities, while also reducing the health burden on our society. Not surprisingly, experts have come to realize that by addressing the health concerns of the most vulnerable populations, health improves for all populations.

In New Hampshire, many health care organizations have already begun collecting this data and have quickly realized its benefits. The Manchester Community Health Center is one of those organizations, and collecting the data helped officials there to realize that Spanish-speaking patients were receiving flu shots at a lower rate than their other patients.

"We clearly needed to improve our communication with our Spanish-speaking patients about flu shots," said Kris McCracken, director of operations, "and toward that end, we worked with one of our Spanish-speaking doctors to create an out-going reminder call in Spanish. This one small change increased phone calls from patients requesting the shots, thereby improving immunization rates."

Collecting and reviewing health data helped them to recognize – and then address – improvements that could be made. Doing so actually boosted the health of their patients, and this is but one facility; imagine health care organizations all across the state and country working in a similar fashion to improve patient health.

"The more ambitious and potentially transformative provisions of the health care reform law seek to better align public health and medicine by bringing prevention and population-based strategies into clinical care," said Dr. William Kassler, Chief Medical Officer for the New England Region of CMS and immediate past president of the New Hampshire Medical Society. "Capturing demographic data on our patients allows us to assess how our patients are diagnosed and treated. Are health outcomes better for one ethnic group or language group compared to another? With good data there are many things that we can do as physicians to better care for our patients and for the betterment of public health."

The Affordable Care Act is moving our nation and our state towards better health in other ways too. Consider that the Affordable Care Act already has increased funding to Community Health Centers, which is extremely important as those centers provide care to underserved individuals and communities. Medicaid income eligibility will soon be expanded to cover more children and adults, and the law already offers subsidies in the form of tax credits to increase affordability of coverage for small businesses.

Furthermore, consumer protections are greatly increased under the health reform law, so that by the year 2014, no individual with a pre-existing condition will be denied coverage or charged a higher premium, simply because they have a pre-existing condition.

All the significant ways in which the Affordable Care Act takes action to reduce health disparities is important to The NH Health & Equity Partnership, a public-private coalition of individuals and organizations whose vision is for everyone in New Hampshire to have a fair opportunity to live a long, healthy life.

The many benefits already implemented along with this new health reform milestone – the collecting and reporting of data related to racial, ethnic, gender, language and disability status – will go a long way to ensuring that every New Hampshire family has this opportunity.

(Peter Janelle is Chair of the New Hampshire Health & Equity Partnership)