Free Legal Support to Close Health Disparities
FREE LEGAL SUPPORT IS PART-AND-PARCEL OF ADDRESSING HEALTH DISPARITIES
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBS) announced that it has negotiated contracts with Steward Healthcare Network, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Boston Accountable Care Organization (part of Boston Medical Center), and Mass General Brigham to take proactive steps to reduce health disparities. The new arrangements incentivize major healthcare providers to aggressively expand their work on equity initiatives. Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) applauds this bold action in support of low-income patients and people of color who are disproportionately affected by social determinants of health. To further close barriers to healthcare, LCR calls for greater investment in free legal support to stabilize low-income patients, especially those experiencing eviction, deportation, and other hardships.
BCBS’ novel approach creates payment contracts that reward clinicians for eliminating racial and ethnic inequities in care. As reported by the Boston Globe: “Each system agreed to reduce disparities within certain metrics to receive a predetermined reimbursement — and needs to eliminate the disparity to receive the maximum amount.” This approach is commendable.
Holistic support is a critical part of tackling health disparities.
Patients who are experiencing hardship or living under the threat of eviction or deportation, suffer intense health instability and disruption in care. This wrecks havoc on health outcomes and undermines investments in community health.
Free legal support is essential to stabilize households and ensure sustained health improvement. We know this first hand because Lawyers for Civil Rights has provided free life-changing legal support for nearly twenty years to low-income patients in community-based health centers in Chelsea, Everett, Revere and Charlestown. LCR’s medical-legal partnership is part of our HealthJustice initiative.
During the pandemic, LCR | HealthJustice has played a critical role in expanding access to emergency rental assistance (RAFT) for thousands of people on the brink of eviction. On a parallel track, in light of major barriers to COVID-19 vaccine access, HealthJustice collaborated with local churches, community groups, and housing developments to organize vaccination clinics in low-income neighborhoods.
“As the pandemic exacerbates disparities along racial lines in healthcare, BCBS’ initiative is a major step in the right direction,” said Attorney Myraida Melendez, the Director of LCR | HealthJustice.
In 2023, as minority communities experience an uneven pandemic recovery, we are committed to deepening and expanding LCR | HealthJustice to serve more low-income families and communities of color.