by Roy Edroso
A flurry of new proposals from HHS and CMS centered around “health equity” suggests that federal agencies may soon require providers to perform equity related tasks, and experts believe data collection is likely to be the first attainable goal.
On April 20, CMS released a strategic action plan, a broad but still developing guide, in which equity would be the “first pillar.” Through the action plan, the agency seeks to “close the gaps in health care access, quality and outcomes for underserved populations” and “ensure engagement with and accountability to the communities CMS serves in policy development and the implementation of CMS programs.” The plan also calls for the “collection of social needs data” and seeks to “promote broader access to health-related social needs.”
While specific details about the action plan remain scant, other recent policy announcements are leading experts to believe that providers may soon have a more direct role in the equity strategy, and it could take the form of reporting requirements, at least for starters.
Age of equity
The term “health equity” has been in use at CMS for years. Since 2018, for example, the Office of Minority Health (OMH) has given awards to organizations that have “demonstrated a strong commitment to health equity.” But over the past year, references to health equity have begun cropping up more frequently in regulation, guidance and other CMS documents, including the most recent physician fee schedule rules (PBN 8/2/21). In February, CMS changed its Direct Contracting program into the ACO REACH program, which is set to include an unprecedented equity benchmark (PBN 3/21/22).
This isn’t the agency’s only recent equity-related outreach, either:
- The OMH released a “Framework for Health Equity 2022-2032” in April 2022, urging CMS to “build capacity among providers, plans and other organizations to enable stakeholders to meet the needs of the communities they serve.”