|HHS’s Dr. Howard Koh speaks at NIH.
Dr. Howard Koh, HHS assistant secretary for health, recently visited NIH as part of the Health Disparities Seminar Series. At Natcher Conference Center, he discussed national efforts to improve the delivery of health services to all Americans and eliminate inequities in health as outlined in the newly unveiled HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.
He provided a backdrop for his interest in public health by recalling his early experience dealing with the health care system as a clinician. He fielded requests of family and friends in the Korean immigrant community to help them obtain adequate health services. He reflected on the fact that, even as a clinician, he had no inroads into the health care system. He said he often thought, “If I am having these challenges helping the people I love and I’m born in this country, and I’m a physician and I’m used to this system, what about people who have other disadvantages with respect to education or income, or culture or language? How are they going to handle the challenges of navigating this health care and public health system?”
Koh briefly reviewed the goals of Healthy People 2020, including promoting healthy behavior and quality of life across the lifespan and creating social and physical environments that promote good health for all. He made it clear that HHS intends to track not only traditional disease outcomes, but also outcomes for such factors as education, the availability of nutritious food, safe housing and reliable transportation. “We have to send a message that health comes much more than from what happens in the doctor’s office. It also stems from what happens to you where you live, labor, learn, play and pray, in your homes, at work, at school and in your houses of worship,” he said.
Koh described key aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aimed at sustaining efforts to achieve equity in health—including the provision of “good insurance that’s stable and secure and affordable”—before reviewing the five major goals of the HHS Action Plan.
- Goal I Transform Health Care Improved access to insurance and expanded eligibility for Medicaid (30 million Americans will be eligible for health care for the first time) would soon have a powerful effect on the health care of racial and ethnic minorities, who are far more likely to lack insurance, medical providers and preventive care.
- Goal II Strengthen the Nation’s Health and Human Services Workforce through a host of training initiatives, especially in the area of primary care and the provision of linguistically and culturally appropriate medical services.
- Goal III Advance the Health, Safety, and Well Being of the American People Plans of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide community transformation grants and the creation of an innovation center in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will focus on population health and care coordination and has been funded at the level of $10 billion over the next decade.
- Goal IV Advance Scientific Knowledge and Innovation in the Field of Health Disparities HHS will focus on collecting more granular racial/ethnic data and ensure that progress on eliminating health disparities is monitored adequately.
- Goal V Increase the Efficiency, Transparency and Accountability of HHS Programs Creation by ACA of the new National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH and the Offices of Minority Health throughout the HHS agencies will play a lead role in ensuring the implementation of the HHS Action Plan.
In conclusion, Koh reminded the audience, “We have tremendous officials and leaders like many of you who are incredible leaders for the world, but we have a sick care system, not a health care system. We all share a vision of having a nation free of disparities in health and health care and yet in order to get there we need that public health symphony. That’s every instrument represented by each of you here. When you get those instruments working together, you can create a product, a harmonized product that is what the public wants. And when you give people good coverage and good care, you give them a chance not to be patients in the first place.”