Learning from Covid and Creating a Better Health Care System
Keep US Covered posted on April 14, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic’s far-reaching impacts could take years, even decades, to fully understand – especially since different communities have been and will continue to be impacted differently.
This tragic reality has put a spotlight on not only the disparities that have long-existed in the American health care system, but also disparities society-wide that lead to different health outcomes. Communities of color have been hit hard by Covid-19, suffering higher hospitalization and mortality rates, while also facing income and job loss as a result of the economic downturn. Taking steps now to recognize and eliminate inequity as we recover from the pandemic can strengthen the system for the long-term.
Even before the pandemic began, health care experts highlighted the impact on the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) as environmental or societal conditions that can drive better health outcomes, or signal wider health disparities. The SDOH are things beyond the quality of care that impact – based on statistical evidence – a person or community’s overall health.
Housing stability – or even the type of housing
Community safety – or community resources such as parks
Access to quality education
Access to nutritious food
Covid-19 Intensified Disparities
We have learned that the more challenging one’s environment is, the worse their lifelong health may be. Before the pandemic, a significant gap existed in America between communities of color and white communities, and between wealthy and working communities. Covid-19 has turned these gaps into chasms.
As Kaiser Family Foundation explored in a piece last month, millions of Americans have lost their income during the pandemic, making it impossible for many to meet their basic needs. And communities of color have been struck hardest, losing income at greater rates than white Americans. This means that inevitably, the health disparities that already existed will only be heightened by challenges experienced disproportionately among communities that were already behind.
What Can We Do?
The American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Biden this month, has provided some immediate relief to families in need that will hopefully help them get back on their feet, mitigating the effect lost employment and income could have on their long-term health. But the acceleration of non-clinical and environmental health disparities among different demographics caused by this virus should be a wakeup call to policymakers that it’s time to make our health care system — and society at large — more equitable. We can’t allow communities of color to languish with poorer health outcomes – we need to level the playing field so that all Americans can expect better.
That means embracing SDOH and investing not just in health care but in stronger schools, safer communities, eliminating food deserts and ensuring housing affordability. It’s without a doubt a long-term project, but the time to start is now – at the federal, state and local levels. Americans deserve nothing less.
It also means smarter, fairer health policies that seek to narrow inequities. Keep US Covered supports efforts by the Biden Administration to prioritize SDOH in crafting broader policies to meaningfully improve health outcomes. Along with rolling back the Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangement (ICHRA) and Short-Term Limited Duration Insurance (STLDI) rules put in place under the previous administration, President Biden can measurably begin to close the expectations gap and protect quality health coverage for American workers and families.