CMS Unveils Plan to Reduce Health Disparities

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By Michael D. Williamson

Sept. 8 — The CMS is committed to reducing health-care disparities in certain Medicare populations within four years, the agency said Sept. 8.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said its Equity Plan focuses on overcoming health-care disparities in groups experiencing disproportionately high rates of disease, lower quality of care and barriers to accessing care. The plan specifies six priority areas to reduce disparities among racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minorities; the disabled; and rural beneficiaries.

Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a beneficiary rights group, told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 8 e-mail that the organization “is delighted to see CMS moving to actively study, remove and monitor barriers to heath care for people who have been underserved in the health insurance and delivery system.”

Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt said in a Sept. 8 statement the plan is part of the agency's efforts to create a health-care system that provides better care, spends dollars more wisely and creates healthier people.

The initiative is the “first CMS plan to address health equity in Medicare,” according to the statement. The CMS Office of Minority Health announced the CMS Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare at a Baltimore conference on health equity Sept. 8.


In the plan, the CMS said it would take the following steps to address health disparities among beneficiaries:

• expand the collection, reporting and analysis of standardized data;

• evaluate the impact of disparities and integrate equity solutions across CMS programs;

• develop and disseminate promising approaches to reduce disparities;

• increase the ability of the health-care workforce to meet the needs of vulnerable populations; and

• improve communication and language access for individuals with limited English proficiency and people with disabilities.


In addition, the plan calls for an increase in the physical accessibility of health-care facilities.

Cara James, the director of the CMS Office of Minority Health, said in the statement the plan is needed because health-care equity is “often the forgotten core area of focus for ensuring that the health system is meeting patient needs and delivering high quality care.”

Announcement of the Equity Plan comes as the CMS is trying to shift more Medicare payments away from the traditional fee-for-service model to a payment model that accounts for care quality and value. In January, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced goals and a timeline to move the Medicare program, and the health-care system at large, toward paying providers based on the quality, rather than the quantity, of care they provide.

Plan's Importance 

Institutionalizing the activities described in the plan will ensure the CMS continues to address health-care equity, “especially as new insurance and care models emerge—and federal leadership changes,” Stein said.

However, the Equity Plan should be considered in light of other agency initiatives, such as increasing beneficiary cost sharing and “limiting coverage for prostheses and other home and community-based services,” Stein told Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael D. Williamson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Janey Cohen at