Continuing their mission to ensure that key lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic are not forgotten, several of the state’s leading health experts and state officials testified at the State House on Wednesday in support of legislation that would tackle the racial and ethnic health disparities the pandemic illuminated.
The bill, filed in January, would create a Cabinet-level Executive Office of Equity, expand full MassHealth coverage for all those eligible, regardless of immigration status, and lower the cost of medications for chronic conditions such as diabetes that disproportionately affect communities of color, among other provisions.
“The challenges we are confronting … are nothing short of a public health crisis,” said Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who testified in support of the bill.
Michael Curry, cofounder of the Health Equity Compact, a group of more than 80 leaders of color that filed the legislation, said this bill would save the state from the financial costs of an unjust system.
A report released in June, commissioned by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation in collaboration with the Compact, found that racial and ethnic disparities cost the state about $5.9 billion each year in avoidable health care spending and lost labor productivity — a total that could nearly double by 2050.
Advocates praised the bill’s provision to expand MassHealth benefits, a move they said was key to reducing the social and financial burden of health disparities in the state.
“Massachusetts is a leader in many ways in healthcare but we are not leading on this,” said Amy Rosenthal, the executive director of Boston advocacy group Health Care For All, which has worked for years to advocate for the expansion of MassHealth but was not directly involved in the current legislation. At the hearing, she said that several states, including Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine, already have laws expanding Medicaid coverage for children and young people who would qualify if not for their immigration status.
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