Campus & Community

HSPH examines government role in health disparities

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First of three conferences on timely issue

Health officials from Mexico, Sweden, England, and the United States compared notes on health reforms March 4 at a symposium designed to illuminate the role of government in addressing health disparities.
The event was the first in a series of three symposia this spring that will examine the issue of health disparities and government.

Harvard School of Public Health Dean Barry R. Bloom said the symposia are designed to not only generate information, but to help devise a plan of action to address the problem of differences in health care quality and access among different groups.

Bloom said the symposia stem from a faculty retreat out of which grew a sense that the United States is at a point of opportunity to act on health disparities. Bloom said a large amount of research on the social and behavioral aspects of health and disparities has been conducted in recent decades and what is needed now is a way to link the knowledge gained with people who can use it in ways that actually reduce the gaps.

“This is a moment of opportunity,” Bloom said.

Bloom said he hoped the symposia would show what kind of needed information is still lacking.

“This is somewhat different from most academic symposia because it points to the need and opportunity for action,” Bloom said. “We hope the symposia will add to the national and global action agenda.”

David Studdert, associate professor of law and public health at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of Thursday’s (March 3) symposium’s organizers, said that health care will be an increasingly important part of the nation’s economy. Health care is expected to continue to grow as a portion of the U.S. economy, reaching $1.8 trillion over 10 years, so that by 2014 it will account for 18 percent of the gross domestic product. The balance between the amount of health care costs paid by private payers and the government will increasingly shift to the government, which will pay fully half of health care costs by 2014.

Carolyn Clancy, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, agreed with Bloom’s assertion that the past two decades have seen a lot of new research on the connections between social status and health.