Healey-Driscoll Administration Lays out Plan for Health Equity Initiative

BOSTON — As part of Gov. Maura Healey’s ongoing commitment to regional and racial equity, the Healey-Driscoll administration recently laid out its plan for Advancing Health Equity in Massachusetts (AHEM), an initiative to eliminate racial, economic, and regional disparities in health outcomes.

Led by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh and Undersecretary for Health Dr. Kiame Mahaniah, the initiative will engage agencies and stakeholders from across the state in reworking the systems that lead to poor outcomes for vulnerable communities.

The first year of AHEM will have two primary focuses: maternal health and social determinants of health. Building on the July 2023 Department of Public Health (DPH) report that revealed major inequities in unexpected labor and delivery complications, AHEM will examine maternal health and how to improve outcomes for mothers and infants in the period before, during, and after birth. AHEM will also examine the living conditions and societal structures that make a person more vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiometabolic diseases — the leading cause of death in Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts leads the country in healthcare and life sciences, but too many communities in our state still struggle to access high-quality, affordable care,” Healey said. “The results of these gaps are devastating. Throughout our state, people of color and people with disabilities experience higher rates of chronic illness, high blood pressure, and severe health complications. This cannot continue. We’re taking on this effort to save lives and improve quality of life.”

In addition to statewide health-equity work, including the implementation of the MassHealth Equity Incentive Program and MassHealth doula benefits, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) will pilot innovative strategies in the 10 areas of the state with the most extreme health disparities. These priority locations will serve as a starting point for initial targeted efforts that will later serve as a model for interventions statewide.

Using the recommendations laid out in the DPH Review of Maternal Health Access as a guide, the AHEM team will work closely with community members and health-equity leaders to identify immediate actions with the greatest impact. These interventions will involve all 11 agencies within EOHHS and the MassHealth program, as well as partners across the administration. By using this administration-wide approach, AHEM aims to get to the root of the economic, social, and environmental factors that lead to and worsen pregnancy complications and heart disease.

“In our country, your ZIP code is more predictive of your life expectancy than your genetic code. To address health disparities, we have to focus our efforts where these disparities are most profound,” Walsh said. “By engaging with those communities, we are building a foundation of equity that we can build upon across the Commonwealth. Our administration is relentlessly focused on improving the health of families and people in every ZIP code in our state.”