On Wednesday, June 1, Axios hosted an Expert Voices roundtable discussion in Little Rock, Arkansas, featuring state and local health care leaders, government officials and medical experts. Guests offered their perspectives on combating barriers to quality health care access and proposed solutions for bridging long-standing equity gaps. Axios’s senior health care editor Adriel Bettelheim and health care editor Tina Reed led the conversation.
How state health leaders are thinking about bridging the health care divide
Cindy Gillespiesecretary of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, discussed what she is doing to meet the health needs of Arkansans, particularly those who are uninsured.
- “Our goal is not to end up with people uninsured…we don’t set goals we aren’t going to achieve… We’ve divided the population up by different eligibility groups…our organization takes responsibility for each eligibility group…each population we have a plan for.”
Telehealth as a solution for closing health care gaps in rural areas
Dr. Joseph Sanford, chief clinical informatics officer at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said he is concerned about telehealth remaining accessible to patients as appointments and consultations return to in-person clinical settings.
- “It doesn’t make sense…for patients to go to a clinic location to then have an appointment with someone in Little Rock if they’re in rural Arkansas…If we don’t have good broadband coverage, then we are denying our patients access to equitable care…We see many patients who have to take a full day off work…they travel 3 ½ hours one way…we’re working with the Department of Commerce to expand broadband…”
Provider says funding is an impediment to making health care more equitable
Troy Wells, president & CEO of Baptist Health, said he believes a major barrier to health equity and greater health care access is funding.
- “It all comes back to money…health access, it’s about money. Health disparities? It’s about money. Arkansas is one of the poorest states in the nation. We have one of the lowest Medicare wage indexes in the nation. Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia are probably the worst.”
Health equity expert encourages holistic thinking around health equity solutions
Dr. Keneshia Bryant-Moore, associate professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said health equity is much broader than access and care. Bryant-Moore also shared a personal story of navigating the healthcare system as an African American.
- “We have to think beyond access to care. When we talk about social determinants, we have our little checklist…If we’re not talking about policy…and how health is impacted by every single policy that we make…then we’re not going to have any effect.”
Thank you Delta Dental for sponsoring this event.