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Mayor Pete Buttigieg unveils plan to reduce inequities in healthcare access

Buttigieg would combat racial and gender bias in part by redirecting funding to under-resourced communities.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Most of the healthcare-centric debate taking place among Democratic presidential candidates has centered around achieving some form of universal coverage, whether it be in the form of a public option or Medicare For All. But Mayor Pete Buttigieg unveiled a plan this week to address a different issue: inequities in access to care.

In a statement posted to his website, Buttigieg effectively made health equity a campaign priority, saying he would combat racial and gender bias in healthcare in part by redirecting funding to under-resourced communities and providing training for health professionals to combat bias.

At the center of his plan is the National Health Equity Strategy Task Force, which he would establish within his first 100 days in office. The task force would delineate the steps necessary to ensure equity and provide healthcare to underrepresented groups.

"This systemic discrimination takes the form of a doctor who takes a Black person's pain symptoms less seriously, or a health clinic staffed by providers lacking training on how to appropriately care for a transgender person," the website's statement reads. "It manifests in a hospital system that breaks ground only in a predominantly white neighborhood, and in a public health department that fails to translate important information into Chinese and Arabic despite a need in the community. Discrimination shows up in health facilities that are not accessible to people with disabilities. It takes place in states like Georgia and Texas, where governments play politics with people's lives by refusing to expand Medicaid."

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Research has shown that inequities occur with some regularity in the U.S. healthcare system. According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Americans of Asian descent are more likely than those in other groups to die from certain types of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites evidence showing Latin-Americans are 20% more likely to develop diabetes.

In addition to establishing the National Health Equity Strategy Task Force, Buttigieg signaled his intent to create Health Equity Zones, which would receive funds to combat disparities and overhaul public health departments. These zones would receive federal funding of about $5 billion over 10 years.

The plan would also create grant programs for colleges that recruit underrepresented groups, and require Medicare and Medicaid to consider diversity as they develop provider networks.

THE LARGER TREND

Buttigieg has been faring well in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, in part because his healthcare reform plans are something of a middle ground between those of his primary rivals, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden has been a proponent of adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act, which he estimates would come with a $740 billion price tag. Warren would expand Medicare to cover all Americans, which may cost in the vicinity of $30 trillion over 10 years, and would likely result in the elimination -- or at the very least, a diminishment -- of the private insurance industry. It has been a contentious topic in debates.

Butigieg's plan would essentially create a public option by offering Medicare to anyone who wants to opt in. The plan would also end surprise billing and expand premium subsidies for low-income people to make marketplace coverage more affordable; and cap marketplace premium payments at 8.5% of a person's income.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com