The last eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic have tested us as a country, but the coming year presents a seismic opportunity to reset, strengthen and protect the millions of men and women across the country who are sick, vulnerable, and afraid.
A fundamental opportunity for the new Administration is to prioritize, repair, and restore confidence in our public health infrastructure, which has been badly eroded over decades. Establishing uniform expectations about mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccinations is imperative and critical for health care stakeholders to support. Strengthening our public health infrastructure to administer vaccinations would go a long way toward instilling confidence at the local level. Additionally, empowering public health leaders to deliver science-based information about the pandemic, the importance of vaccines, and how Americans can protect themselves, their families, and their communities would begin to reintroduce the concept of social responsibility, which is fundamental to our democracy.
While addressing the immediate pandemic challenge, it is critically important for leaders in Washington and the states to strengthen all Americans’ access to high-quality care and prioritize affordability, which is a key part of ensuring health care for all Americans is sustainable. As important as getting everyone into the health care system is how they are treated while there.
Recent administration actions to roll back nondiscrimination protections should be repealed along with regulations that currently give immigration authorities the ability to deny applications for green cards and visas to individuals who have used Medicaid and other public assistance programs. As a country and as health care organizations, we should be encouraging individuals to seek primary care now to avoid expensive, catastrophic care later. At the same time, the country needs to commit to rooting out conscious and unconscious bias throughout the health care system.
A final area now essential to ensuring individual access to care is digital connectivity. We know that communities where people who have high health care disparities are living on the wrong side of the digital divide. Black and Hispanic/Latinx households have fewer devices and often lack access to a reliable internet connection. As we consider broadening health care access and convenience with digital tools, it is important that key populations are not left behind. This challenge should be considered to ensure universal access as part of an infrastructure repair bill. We need to look upon digital access as a key social determinant of health and take action to bridge the digital divide.
The next few months will mark a turning point, as the new Administration begins unveiling its health care agenda. All stakeholders should view this period as an opportunity to reset the nation’s priorities and to contribute to a better and more equitable health care system for all Americans.