The Role of Medicaid Health Plans in Addressing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Over the past several years, the evidence base supporting the idea that the U.S. health care system features systemic disparities in insurance coverage, health care access, and health outcomes has grown substantially. Awareness of underlying racial and ethnic health inequities in the United States has grown accordingly. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought these persistent health inequities—and the devastation they have wrought on communities of color—into sharp relief. Data from across the United States show that racial and ethnic minority groups, including Latinx, Blacks, and Pacific Islanders, have experienced significantly higher infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates from COVID-19 than Whites. Past efforts to reduce disparities have taught us that public health agencies and health care providers alone cannot fix this problem. Reducing racial and ethnic disparities require cross-sector partnerships and shared commitment to this important goal from a wide variety of stakeholders.

This report analyzes the factors contributing to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and focuses on the role of Medicaid health plans in addressing racial and ethnic health disparities. It describes the federal and state policies governing the activities of Medicaid plans in this arena and challenges that plans face in developing actionable programming. It highlights work in five focal areas: data collection and analysis, language and cultural competency, member engagement, provider engagement, and community partnerships to address social determinants of health, where Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) member plans have acted. Lastly, it provides a case study of one plan that has taken innovative actions to address racial and ethnic health disparities which have shown meaningful impacts.

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