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Pandemic underscores need to reduce healthcare disparities

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The novel coronavirus pandemic has magnified the need to eliminate inequities in Michigan’s healthcare system -- and to do so with renewed urgency, according to a report released June 25 by AARP Michigan and Public Sector Consultants of Lansing.

The report, Disrupt Disparities 2.0, makes a compelling case for how these disparities can be eliminated in proactive, positive ways. See the full report here:

The foundation of this project is the idea that everyone in Michigan should have access to quality healthcare and the long-term services and supports they need no matter their age, race, ethnicity, geographic location, or income.

“There’s no dispute that COVID-19 has had a disparate impact on senior populations and people of color. The numbers don’t lie. However, we cannot re-write history,” said Paula D. Cunningham, State Director of AARP Michigan. “The important piece here is the future and the road map that shows how to help eliminate these disparities in health care access, prevention and treatment. There is also no question the time to act is now.”

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Older adults are being hospitalized at far greater rates for COVID-19 than their 18-49 year old peers and 95 percent of Michigan COVID-19 deaths are 50 and older, with a median age of 77 years, according to the report.

Despite making up only 14 percent of Michigan’s population, African Americans account for over one-third of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of deaths in the state.

“This report is a sobering look at the disparities experienced by vulnerable residents in our community,” said Justin Fast, a senior consultant at the nonpartisan public policy firm, Public Sector Consultants (PSC). “The disparate outcomes of this pandemic, sadly, are not surprising given the policy issues AARP, PSC, and others have been talking about for years.”

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The report calls for the following solutions to reduce and eliminate these disparities:

· Provide greater access to home-and community-based services. Loss of life in nursing homes during COVID-19 highlights the long-standing need to rebalance Medicaid dollars away from nursing homes to home-and community-based services;

· Address social determinants of health and chronic disease prevention, such as senior hunger and diet-related chronic disease;

· Expand high-speed internet access;

· Increase access to quality telehealth services, especially in underserved areas. A recently passed package of bills in the Michigan Legislature is a major step to accomplish this.

If implemented, the recommendations in this report will:

· Allow seniors to live where they want and age in place, and increase access to services and supports at one-third the cost of current options;

· Reduce the likelihood of seniors requiring nursing home care by 23 percent and hospitalization by 46 percent;

· Save seniors nearly 25 percent in medical costs per year;

· Increase access to high quality healthcare at reduced costs, while spurring business growth in rural and low-income communities;

· Draw up to $335 million in untapped federal funds to Michigan, which would generate an estimated $517 million in gross domestic product (GDP) and 4,550 new jobs statewide.

These recommendations are based, in part, on AARP Michigan’s landmark report, Disrupting Disparities: The Continuum of Care for Michiganders 50 and Older. In that report, AARP outlined numerous longstanding disparities in access to home-and community-based services, long-term supports and services, social determinants of health and chronic disease burden, access to broadband services, and accessible and effective telehealth services throughout Michigan.

“The solutions offered in this report are achievable,” said Cunningham at AARP Michigan. “We can’t allow what’s happened in the past to control what will happen in the future. We are confident leaders in Michigan can step up, as they have so many times, to ensure that everyone has the same access to quality health care.”

Added Fast at PSC: “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. It’s our broken systems and resulting inequities that have led to disparate outcomes for people and groups – and we should never forget that we have the power to change our systems.”

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