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On Thursday, December 2nd, Axios health care reporter Tina Reed and congressional reporter Alayna Treene examined persisting health equity issues and the work underway to close gaps in access, featuring Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Baltimore City Health Department Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa, and Brown University dean of the School of Public Health & Professor of Health Services, Policy, & Practice Dr. Ashish K. Jha.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha identified the assumptions policymakers should be making about coronavirus through the winter season, what the pandemic highlighted in terms of health equity issues, and the most powerful tools to funding health inequity solutions.

  • On what policymakers should consider for coronavirus next year: “The big picture point I would make to policymakers is 2022 really should be our pivot year, the year we take this acute phase of the pandemic and turn it into something that we’re going to manage more chronically over the long run. What do we need to do that? Obviously, we need to continue to get more Americans vaccinated.”
  • On the pandemic’s exposure of longstanding health inequities: “It’s taken all of the challenges we’ve had, all of the longstanding inequities we’ve had in our country and really exposed them in a way and made them worse. It hasn’t created new inequities. I would say these inequities have existed for a long time, what it has really done is just highlight them in a way that is now hard to ignore.”

Rep. Robin Kelly discussed the health care initiatives in the Build Back Better agenda, the obstacles to health equity progress, and the policy provisions shaping next year’s health care agenda.

  • On obstacles standing in the way of progress: “People have different lenses, and I think that people know we need to get these things done. There’s no excuse for our maternal mortality rates, the health care disparities. COVID put a great big spotlight on the inequities and the disparities in this country.”
  • On upcoming health care policy priorities: “I think the Build Back Better Act is a great first step, but we’ll still be discussing maternal mortality, we’ll still be looking at health equity, we’ll still be looking at diversifying the health care pipeline, diversifying clinical trials, lowering prescription drug costs.”

Letitia Dzirasa explained potential impacts of the new Omicron variant on public health messaging, addressing health equity issues at a local level, and the public health challenges at the forefront for next year.

  • On looking at data and community input to inform health equity interventions: “I think it’s very important that we look at the data, that we understand the disparities and where they exist. But as we’re planning interventions and how best to implement a particular program or outreach method, we have to be community informed, so we’re looking to the community to plan alongside us.”
  • On the public health challenges defining the year ahead: “I think the important thing to note is that all of our other public health challenges did not go away because COVID came along, and so we’re going to be playing catch up in other public health areas for quite some time. I am encouraged by the increased federal funding going towards public health, but you have to remember this is an area that has been chronically underfunded.”

Axios Chief People Officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top segment with UnitedHealth Group senior vice president and chief health equity officer U. Michael Currie, who emphasized how addressing social determinants of health helps to advance health equity.

  • “You can’t have a conversation about achieving or advancing health equity and best addressing health disparities without having a real appreciation for what these social factors or social determinants of health have on individuals achieving their best possible health.”

Thank you UnitedHealth Group for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Jumpstart launches fund for Black founders

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Nashville-based Jumpstart Health Investors launched Jumpstart Nova, the first U.S. venture fund to exclusively back Black-founded and led health care companies.

  • Major players including Eli Lilly, HCA Healthcare and the American Hospital Association injected $55 million.

Why it matters: A tiny fraction of existing health tech companies have Black leaders at the helm — a result of decades of systemic racism and the institutional barriers it has created.

Jan 10, 2022 - Health

Insurers to cover costs for at-home COVID tests starting Saturday

COVID-19 rapid at-home test kits rest on a table at a free distribution event for those who received vaccination shots or booster shots on Jan. 7 in Los Angeles. Photo: Mario Tama via Getty Images

Health insurers will be required to cover costs for over-the-counter, at-home COVID tests starting this Saturday, the Health and Human Services Department announced Monday.

Why it matters: Under President Biden's strategy to expand access to free COVID testing, insurers will either cover costs upfront or reimburse people after they submit claims.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Jan 14, 2022 - Health

What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Omicron variant doesn't cause as much severe illness as other variants have, but its "mild" symptoms can still be pretty unpleasant.

The big picture: The way health care professionals and doctors differentiate between "mild" and "severe" illness may not align with a layperson's understanding of those terms.

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