Type to search

News Viewpoints

VIEWPOINT: Delaware must not go backward in health equity

Avatar photo
Share
Dr. LeRoi Hicks

Dr. LeRoi Hicks | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTIANACARE

The proposed Delaware House Bill 350 is well-intended but would have terrible consequences for Delaware’s most vulnerable populations. There is a better way.

As a Black physician who has dedicated his 25-year career to understanding and addressing health equity, I am deeply concerned about Delaware’s proposed House Bill 350, which aims to address rising health care costs by establishing a body of political appointees that would oversee the budgets of Delaware’s nonprofit hospitals.

While the goal of bending the cost curve in health care may be well-intentioned, this bill will have horrific consequences for Delaware’s most vulnerable populations, including Black people, Hispanic people and other groups that have been traditionally underserved in health care. We can and must work together to solve this problem and provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time.

A tale of two cities

To borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens, Delaware, like much of America, is a tale of two cities. The experience of life—including a healthy, safe environment and access to good-quality health care—is vastly different depending on where you live and your demographic background. In the city of Wilmington, for example, ZIP codes that are just a few miles apart represent more than 20 years difference in life expectancy. This is not OK—it’s a sign that we have serious structural problems in our communities that are causing harm to people and making their lives shorter.

Importantly, chopping $360 million out of Delaware’s hospital budgets, as House Bill 350 would do in year one, is not going to help this problem—it’s going to make it worse. And in doing so, it would ultimately make health care in Delaware more expensive—not less expensive.

The key to lowering health care costs is to improve quality, access and equity

Data show that about 5% of patients in the United States account for more than 50% of all health care costs. These are primarily patients who have complex and poorly managed chronic conditions that cause them to end up in the most expensive care settings—hospitals, operating rooms, emergency departments.

The key to driving down health care costs is to improve quality and equity so that everyone is supported in achieving their best health, and these high users of the most expensive kinds of care are better supported in managing their health conditions such as diabetes or heart failure in the appropriate way. In doing so, they prevent the need for costly emergency or “rescue” care.

Let’s do more—not less—of what we already know works

Health care is not a one-size-fits-all industry. The delivery of care for patients across a diverse population requires multiple interventions at the same time. These interventions are designed not only to improve the quality of care but also to close the gap in terms of health care disparities. That’s important, because when we improve care and outcomes for the most vulnerable populations, we tend to get things right for everyone.

One type of intervention is about doing exactly the right things for a patient based on the evidence of what will help—and doing nothing extra that will cause harm or generate additional costs without providing additional benefit. An example of this might be ensuring that every patient who has a heart attack gets a certain drug called a beta blocker right after their heart attack, and they receive clear guidance and support on the actions they must take to reduce their risk of a second heart attack, such as regular exercise and good nutrition.

The second type of intervention is for the highest-risk populations. These are patients who live in poor communities where there are no gyms and no grocery stores, and people commonly have challenges with transportation and lack of access to resources that makes it difficult—sometimes impossible—to follow their plan for follow-up care. They lack access to high-nutrient food that reduces their risk of a second heart attack. They also live in areas where there are fewer health care providers compared to more affluent areas.

These interventions tend to be very intensive and do not generate income for health systems; in fact, they require significant non-reimbursed investment, but they are necessary to keep our most vulnerable patients healthy.

The medical community has developed interventions for these populations that are proven to work. A local example is the Delaware Food Pharmacy program, which connects at-risk patients with healthy food and supports their ability to prepare it. The program helps patients improve their overall health and effectively manage their chronic conditions so they can prevent an adverse event that would put them back in the hospital or emergency department.

When we work together, we succeed

We’ve seen incredible examples of how this work can be successful right here in Delaware. Delaware was the first state in the country to eliminate a racial disparity in colorectal cancer, and we did this by expanding cancer services, including making it easy for vulnerable people to get preventive cancer care and screenings. This is an incredible success story that continues to this day, and it was the result of thoughtful, detail-oriented partnerships among the state and the health care community. The work continues as we collaborate to reduce the impact and mortality of breast cancer in our state.

Unfortunately, these kinds of interventions are the first thing to go when health care budgets get slashed, because they don’t generate revenue and are not self-sustaining. These kinds of activities need to be funded—either through grants or an external funder, or by the hospitals and health care systems.

By narrowly focusing on cost, we risk losing the progress we have made

Delaware House Bill 350, as it’s proposed, would cause harm in two ways:

  • First, it would compromise our ability to invest in these kinds of interventions that work.
  • Second, it increases the risk that higher-cost health services and programs that are disproportionately needed by people in vulnerable communities could become no longer available in Delaware.

In states where the government has intervened in the name of cutting costs, like Vermont and Massachusetts, we see the consequences–less quality and reduced equitable access to much-needed services. House Bill 350 will widen the gap between those who have means and those who are more vulnerable.

These changes will lead to increased disease burden on these populations. They will end up in the emergency room more and hospitalized more, which is by far the most expensive kind of care. That’s not what anyone wants—and it’s the opposite of what this bill was intended to accomplish.

At this moment, in Delaware, we have an opportunity to put our state on a sustainable path to better health for all Delawareans. House Bill 350 is not that path. However, the discussion that House Bill 350 has started is something that we can build on by bringing together the stakeholders we need to collaborate with to solve these complicated problems. That includes Delaware’s government and legislators, the hospitals and health centers, the insurance, pharmacy and medical device industries, and most importantly, patients and the doctors who care for them.

LeRoi Hicks, M.D., MPH, FACP is the campus executive director for ChristianaCare, Wilmington Campus.

Editor’s Note: This commentary was originally published on news.christianacare.org.

Get the free DBT email newsletter  

Follow the people, companies and issues that matter most to business in Delaware.

Tags:

You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Premier Digital Partners

© 2024 Delaware Business Times

Flash Sale! Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%.

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.

SUMMER FLASH SALE!

Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%