And the leverage to make these changes crosses party lines in both houses of Congress. In the past, legislators have used appropriations, Medicare and Medicaid policies, or individual programs to address inequalities. But the work that needs to be done is difficult in a divided Congress, Bowman said.
“We have yet to make major investments and pass transformational legislation,” he said, citing mental and maternal health as key areas. “We have to talk about the deconstruction of a system built on racism and colonization.”
Saul Flores, deputy governor of Illinois, agreed with Bowman’s assessment, saying state and federal officials must work together to achieve health equity, especially with Medicaid in full swing.
The post-pandemic redefinition of Medicaid eligibility threatens the most vulnerable patients, health officials say, making the elimination process important to address disparities. But in some places this process is fast, more than 500,000 people already taken off the spools.
“We make sure to talk to people, when and how to talk to them,” she said. “This administration has been very helpful to us in our efforts.”
Nutrition, education and housing, along with other services, were also mentioned as current and future policy options to address health inequalities.
Jamila Taylor, president and CEO of the National WIC Association, the nonprofit education and advocacy arm of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, said program staff are already preparing for what the end of pandemic Medicaid assistance could mean.
“We know that this will not be the only solution,” she said of the disparity in maternal mortality. “Whatever solutions we develop and combine, they must be comprehensive in nature.”