America’s mayors are committed to health equity, but they need Washington’s support

America’s mayors are committed to health equity, but they need Washington’s support

I firmly believe that your zip code should not dictate your health outcomes. Growing up, my family didn’t have private health insurance—we relied on the public health system, as did many other families in the Acres Homes neighborhood of Houston, Texas. My father died of cancer when I was 13 and never received any treatment other than painkillers. We didn’t even know he had leukemia until he died. He went to the ER, got his prescription, and continued.

As Mayor of Houston, these childhood lessons inform my perspective on public health policy.

There is a dispute in my party about whether nationalized health care or a market-based approach to universal coverage is the solution. But we cannot put community access to healthcare on hold while we debate it. lives are at stake. Values-based care models from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services focus on preventive care, help keep patients away from emergency care, and provide incentives for coordinated care and better outcomes—approaches I saw in Houston.

Houston’s Complete Communities initiative was launched in 2017 during my first term in office to ensure everyone had access to quality services and amenities, including health care. Complete Communities’ mission is to build and sustain upscale neighborhoods with a focus on 10 that are historically underserved, including the area where I grew up. I am proud that this initiative is community based and resident driven. Neighborhoods work together to create action plans to address economic, environmental, and equity challenges, which are then approved by our City Council and implemented by the Office of the Mayor for entire communities.

I’ve worked with residents and local leaders to address our city’s biggest challenges. In Houston, we know that healthcare isn’t just about taking care of people when they’re sick — it’s about providing them with resources to live safer and healthier lives. Unique programs like CAPABLE (Community Aging in Place – Advancing Better Living for Elders) — an at-home program developed by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing that combines nursing, occupational therapy, and handyman services — have benefited seniors and Medicare recipients around the world World helped city gain greater independence and reduce the impact of health inequalities.

Of course, social and economic stressors such as homelessness and food insecurity affect the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Since 2012, we have provided safe, permanent housing for more than 25,000 Houstonians. In January, we announced $100 million in funding for homelessness reduction programs and $65 million in COVID-related funding. It’s proof that federal funding is making a real difference — and why Democrats in the Biden administration and in Congress must once again champion innovative, values-based health care models that help cities like Houston.

Our most vulnerable residents must be able to access long-term, personalized primary care to manage chronic conditions, mental health and physical disabilities. I’ve seen many Houstonians turn to emergency rooms and ambulances for medical care — just like my father did — because they don’t know where else to go. Once they have a relationship with a primary care provider, we need to ensure that the care they receive is comprehensive and affordable. If it’s not affordable, it’s not accessible.

America’s mayors are enthusiastic partners in the quest for healthier communities and greater justice. The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the African American Association of Mayors both passed resolutions in support of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s (CMMI) Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO) REACH model — the first program to establish a plan for Equity in health to reduce inequalities and collect patient demographics associated with social determinants of health.

It’s impossible to understand an individual’s needs without knowing their circumstances, and this data helps us identify which resources are most important. In order for the model to have any chance of success, however, it needs broad support from the federal government. I say to the legislators: No more debates. Now is the time to support a program that can improve health outcomes for all Americans.

Local leaders can and should champion public-private partnerships that build stronger, healthier cities. But we cannot do it alone, and we need the support of leaders in Washington to provide accessible health care for all.

Sylvester Turner has been Mayor of Houston, Texas since 2016.

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