Groups launch health equity coalition dedicated to chronic disease advocacy

Several civil rights, equity and healthcare groups have formed a coalition focused on advancing health equity among communities of color living with chronic diseases.

The Health Equity Coalition on Chronic Disease (HECCD) is a nationwide effort dedicated to current members—which are expected to expand—including the Association of Black Cardiologists, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Minority Quality Forum. Its first year, it will focus on obesity, which disproportionately impacts communities of color. 

The vast majority of Black women and nearly half of all Black and Latino Americans live with obesity. American Indians and Alaska Natives are also 50% more likely than white Americans to live with obesity. Obesity heightens risk for many serious diseases. HECCD’s Obesity Care Now effort will focus on raising awareness and advocating for Medicare expansion to include obesity care and treatment, like anti-obesity medications that are excluded from Medicare Part D coverage. 

There has been little advocacy focus on health equity, coalition co-chair Elena Rios, M.D., president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, told Fierce Healthcare. That’s because healthcare organizations and companies typically focus on their own agendas. Yet engaging lawmakers on ways to improve the system for the marginalized is critical.

“This is nothing new to us,” Rios said. “What’s new is about health equity and bringing together organizations that don’t necessarily work together.”

“Our current policies are grossly out of step with science and the overwhelming consensus from the medical community that obesity is a complex, treatable, and serious disease," co-chair Gary A. Puckrein, president and CEO of the National Minority Quality Forum, said in a press release. "If Congress and the Biden administration are committed to their promises to advance racial equity, fixing these policies are a key first step.”

A major purpose of the cross-sector effort is to avoid duplicating efforts and ensuring all groups’ perspectives and priorities are heard. Each member is already an advocacy group, but “there’s power in numbers,” Rios said. While traditional coalitions represent industry, rather than communities, HECCD is trying to amplify the voice of community groups.

“We’re all in the same boat in terms of our call to urgency for this country to take a look at our most vulnerable communities that have been impacted throughout history and especially with this COVID-19 pandemic,” Rios said. 

The coalition plans to focus advocacy less on the healthcare system itself and more so on education and preventive care.