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The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says that its strategic plan puts health care equity front and center, and the agency has rolled out a high-level roadmap for achieving its goals. It's an ambitious plan, heavy on data-gathering and quality measures, that leaves CMS with a long list of to-dos.

The recently announced "health equity strategy" presents a general outline of the steps CMS will take to support what it describes as the "first pillar" of the agency's strategic plan. The aim, according to the strategy document, is to attain "the highest level of health for all people, where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their optimal health regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, geography, preferred language, and other factors that affect access to care and health outcomes."

Getting there, according to the plan, will require that the agency up its game when it comes to promoting culturally appropriate services, boosting program enrollment, expanding demographic data collection, implementing new quality measures, and a range of other activities. The efforts aren't limited to Medicare and Medicaid — CMS says that the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Office of Minority Health, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, and the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality each have important responsibilities to shoulder.

The full strategy document is available online, and includes updates on current progress among the various CMS agencies. While specifics haven't been established, elements that could be of particular relevance to the physical therapy community include the promotion of services that are responsive to preferred languages, more extensive reporting requirements, and greater standardization of the data collected on patients that would include "race, ethnicity, preferred language, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, income, geography, and other factors."

Developing a health care equity strategy has been a high priority for CMS since the 2021 enactment of a White House executive order that directed federal agencies to advance racial equity and provide support for underserved communities. As part of its efforts to meet that directive, CMS has been calling for public comment on various health equity-related topics in nearly all of its proposed rules.

In the press release announcing the strategy list, CMS also emphasizes the role private insurers and other health care stakeholders can play in the evolution toward equity. To reinforce that concept, the agency will hold meetings with groups "including health care facilities, insurance companies, state officials, and providers" to focus on targeted issues. First up: a meeting, set for this summer, focused on maternal health outcomes.

"Advancing health equity is the core work of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services," said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. "We can’t achieve our health system goals until everyone can attain the highest level of health."

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