Florida health equity bill passes through committee

A bill in Florida that would work to close the racial gap in maternal health outcomes passed through the Professional and Public Health Committee by a unanimous vote on Tuesday.

Representative Kamia Brown filed HB 1381 on Feb. 26. The bill will revise the Florida Department of Health’s (DoH) role in the “Closing the Gap” program, directing them to take a more hands on approach. It will expand maternal telehealth access and expand training for perinatal and maternal health care workers.

Brown introduced the bill to the committee on Tuesday, saying:

“The goal of this bill is to improve maternal health outcomes and to promote equity. The statutory area of focus really is to decrease racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes, establish a telehealth minority alternative pilot program to expand the use of technology enabled learning and [to create] models to improve maternal health outcomes for underserved population. It is to also allow telehealth services to screen and treat common pregnancy related complications.”

Closing the Gap is a state-funded grant program that provides funds to communities, faith based organizations and other organizations that work to reduce health disparities in Florida communities. The next cycle of grants will be announced in April 2021.

 

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The bill would establish telehealth minority maternal care pilot programs in Orange and Duval counties, with plans to expand from there. The DoH will also work with local communities who suffer from chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer and others to work towards closing mortality gaps across races.

Representative Anna Eskamani lauded Rep. Brown for the bill and its inclusion of Indigenous Americans into the text of the bill:

“Rep. Kamia Brown… for years has been pushing for these issues and pushing forward to improve maternal health outcomes. We all know [maternal mortality numbers] are dramatically high, especially for black women and for other women of color, and I also just want to thank the bill sponsor for the integration of Indigenous people into this bill as well, which also helps to speak to so many of our native people here in Florida that have also seen disparities in their ability to become parents.”

Racial disparities in health care outcomes have become a point of focus in Florida recently. At the start of February, health equity experts presented information on maternal mortality to the state legislature. According to data from the National center for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, non-Hispanic Black women and Indigenous American women are two to three times more likely to die from complications in childbirth than white women.

Studies show that minority racial groups are also more likely to suffer negative health outcomes from other diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Another bill filed by Rep. Brown, HB 183, unanimously passed through the committee on Tuesday as well. The bill would create an Office of Minority and Health Equity liaison in each individual county health department in Florida.