Maryland Professors Influence Law to Reduce Health Disparities
ASPH Friday Letter
April 13, 2012
The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation this session that creates programs to improve health in underserved communities and to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities throughout the state. Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reductions Act (SB 234) into law on April 10 at a ceremony attended by several University of Maryland School of Public Health faculty members and other allies. The legislation will position the state of Maryland as a leader in the national effort to eliminate health disparities.
Dr. Stephen Thomas, professor of health services administration and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, served as a member of the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council Health Disparities Workgroup, established by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, which proposed many of the recommendations included the legislation. The key component of the law is the creation of Health Enterprise Zones, which will offer tax breaks and other incentives to primary care practitioners, community-based organizations or local health departments for their efforts to expand and improve access to care, improve health, and reduce disparities in these underserved areas. It will also create the Maryland Health Innovation Prize designed to spark new ideas and innovative strategies to close the disparity gap. Dr. Thomas briefed state delegates about the urgent need for such programs to address Maryland's health disparities in February.
In addition, Dr. Bonnie Braun, professor of family science and faculty scholar in the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy and Dr. Olivia Carter-Pokras, associate professor of epidemiology, testified before the Health and Government Operations Committee in March in support of this legislative initiative. Their testimony addressed the need for multicultural health care equity certification and accreditation to strengthen training programs in cultural competency and health literacy for the state’s health workforce. This was integrated into the Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reductions Act (SB 234) just signed into law.
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