Texas House approves plan to create Office for Health Equity
Representative Garnet Coleman’s bill to establish an Office for Health Equity in the state of Texas passed the House with an 86-56 vote on Tuesday. SB 4139 — co-sponsored by three other Democratic House members — would create the office in order to promote equitable health outcomes for minority communities throughout the state in the wake of COVID-19.
Coleman described the bill while introducing it in the House Public Health Committee in early April:
“It became very clear during COVID-19 that there was a problem. And we’ve always known there have been disparities in health, and not necessarily knowing why, it could be environmental, it could be something else. But in this case it meant death. So, particularly among communities of color, there was a wide disparity between, particularly [among] African American men, as well as Latinos and others who had underlying health conditions.”
If the bill passes, a brand new Office for Health Equity would completely replace the existing Center for the Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities — created by SB 501 in 2011.
Coleman said HB 4139 is continuing the work of a bill he passed in 2001 to create a Health Disparities Taskforce.
The office would conduct research and report on existing health disparities across the state, engaging with local health departments to implement programs designed to reduce disparities. The office would also be required to collaborate with universities, federal agencies and other organizations to coordinate and maximize the state’s existing resources without duplicating them.
Testifying in support of HB 4139, Every Texan — a policy advocacy group focused on promoting equity in Texas — explained how an Office for Health Equity could help the state:
“This Office could implement programs and strategies to address the factors underlying racial and ethnic inequities in access to health care and coverage … Successfully enrolling Hispanic and Latino families in health insurance requires targeted Medicaid and CHIP outreach, conducted in individuals’ primary languages and by trusted community members, especially for mixed-immigration-status families. These are the types of needs an Office for Health Equity can help address.”
As the Texas Data Quality Coalition tweeted on Thursday, advocates of the bill want to see improvements to the state’s data collection on race, sex and other demographic factors.
TX Health & Human Services Commission only collects high-level race and inaccurate sex health data. Many Texans and their unique health conditions are erased. We need #betterdata for #betterhealth. TX House, Vote YES on #HB4139 and disaggregated data amendments! #txdeservesbetter
— Texas Data Quality Coalition (@txdataquality) April 29, 2021
According to the bill’s fiscal note, creating and operating the office would cost the state approximately $5.4 million in FY 2022-2023.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where it needs to receive a vote from the full body before the Legislature’s May 31 end date.