The following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General office submitted to SOURCE media.
BOSTON – In fiscal year 2019, Massachusetts hospitals provided over $753 million and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) contributed over $142 million in community benefits for residents of Massachusetts, according to reports published by Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office.
The contributions made by these organizations include significant investments in health equity, social determinants of health and charity care.
“Advancing racial justice and equity in health care is a major priority of my office, and our state’s hospitals and HMOs have a critical role to play in addressing health disparities,” Healey said. “I want to thank these organizations for their continued work to address the root causes of poor health, especially in our most vulnerable populations and amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated existing health inequities. We continue to encourage hospitals and health plans to focus this spending on improving the social, environmental, and economic living conditions in underserved communities across our state.”
A total of 57 hospitals filed Community Benefits reports for fiscal year 2019. Of those, 47 non-profit acute care hospitals reported a total of $722 million in Community Benefit expenditures, of which $320 million was reported for free or discounted care provided directly to patients. In addition, 10 for-profit hospitals reported nearly $31 million in Community Benefit expenditures, $22 million of which was reported as free or discounted care for patients.
A total of six HMOs filed Community Benefits reports for Fiscal Year 2019. They reported $142 million in Community Benefits expenditures, of which over $104 million was contributed to the state’s Health Safety Net, which pays for care for uninsured and underinsured residents who do not have access to affordable health coverage.
In November 2020, Attorney General Maura Healey’s Office issued a report with a far-reaching set of recommendations for reducing health inequities that impact communities of color in Massachusetts. The report – Building Toward Racial Justice and Equity in Health: A Call to Action – highlights longstanding disparities and also addresses the disproportionate toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the health of Black, Hispanic, and Latinx communities, who have experienced significantly higher infection rates, hospitalization rates, and age-adjusted death rates than other communities, and are more vulnerable to the economic impacts of the virus.
In 2018, the Attorney General’s Office published new Community Benefits Guidelines to encourage non-profit hospitals and HMOs to adopt a framework that is centered around health equity, and to promote investments in key social determinants of health. The updated guidelines promote regional collaboration and investment in statewide health priorities. The guidelines also provide hospitals and HMOs with tools to improve community engagement practices in order to ensure that Community Benefits programs are responsive to local needs.
As shown in the chart below, hospitals and HMOs reported allocating about half of Community Benefits program spending to one of four statewide health priorities—chronic disease (with a focus on cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), housing stability and homelessness, mental health, and substance use disorders—and the other half to addressing other health needs identified by the community in Fiscal Year 2019.
Many hospitals and HMOs implemented Community Benefits programs aimed at addressing health inequities, including the following:
- In an effort to reduce the high rate of pediatric asthma in Worcester – especially among Black and Hispanic families – UMass Memorial Medical Center supported the Worcester City-Wide Pediatric Asthma Intervention initiative. This program uses culturally competent community health workers to conduct home visits, assess and address environmental triggers, and improve medication adherence for children with poorly controlled asthma.
- Harvard Pilgrim Health Care partnered with mobile farmers markets to expand access to healthy, affordable food in low-income neighborhoods in New Bedford and other South Coast communities.
- In coordination with local organizations, Berkshire Medical Center distributed free home blood pressure monitors and offered free health screenings in the community to provide underserved populations, including the uninsured and underinsured, with access to preventive services.
- In response to documented disparities in outcomes for cancer patients associated with race, ethnicity, income, and insurance status, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center offered bilingual and bicultural Patient Care Navigators to serve the Chinese community and support hospitalized cancer patients.
- Athol Memorial Hospital convened a multi-sector partnership of local schools, law enforcement, emergency responders, and social service agencies to address and minimize child trauma and its adverse effects. This initiative works to ensure that children exposed to trauma in their home, school, or community receive appropriate support to help them achieve academically and grow personally.
To promote transparency and accountability in health care spending, the Attorney General’s Office launched a new website for annual reports. The website contains all reports since 2001, catalogued by year, and allows the public to see detailed information on hospital and HMO community benefit programs and their plans for future engagement. For the first time, the public can view and download information on Community Benefits programs and spending in Fiscal Year 2019 by program type, as well as by the health issue and population targeted by the program.
The Community Benefits Program is managed by Health Care Analyst Noam Yossefy of AG Healey’s Health Care Division.