Speaking May 1 at a diversity roundtable at the AHA annual meeting, a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) official expressed her support for the AHA’s #123forEquity Pledge to Eliminate Health Care Disparities, and encouraged hospital leaders to “find their voice” on achieving health care equity.

The AHA campaign seeks to accelerate the increased the collection and use of race, ethnicity and language preference data; cultural competency training; and diversity in leadership and governance. “The AHA is putting a stake in health equity,” said Cara James, director of CMS's Office of Minority Health. “Through all of us working together we can ultimately achieve health equity.”

James described the agency’s recent guide for hospitals and other stakeholders to help prevent readmissions among racially and ethnically diverse Medicare beneficiaries. The guidance offers an overview of the issues; gives recommendations; and sets concrete examples of initiatives and strategies that may be applied to reduce readmissions in diverse populations.

James said her office is “working across CMS to standardize the collection of race and ethnicity data on our surveys. We are also analyzing our existing data to identify disparities among our beneficiaries.”

She urged hospitals to “make the business case” that investing in health equity can foster better care at lower cost and result in “healthier people throughout our health care system.” She also urged hospital leaders to be “health equity ambassadors” in their communities.

James said one of her biggest challenges is persuading people to make a “firm commitment to address health disparities.” She said some people may feel overwhelmed by what it takes to address disparities because they are a result of a number of factors outside of the health care system, like, for example, where you live, health care access, socio-economic status and education.

“People say they can’t do anything about poverty,” she told AHA members. “But we can do things to mitigate the impact of poverty, and we see people doing this about that and it is exciting.”