Posted March 1, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably caused great pain, suffering, loss and stress for all Kentuckians. However, some communities have been especially hard hit during the pandemic. Members of the Hispanic, African American and rural communities in Kentucky have historically poorer health outcomes that have unfortunately only worsened since the start of the pandemic. Reports just recently released indicate that life expectancy for African Americans has dropped by nearly three years since 2019, and by 1.9 years for Hispanics. As physicians, we treat patients who come from a variety of backgrounds and face a wide range of barriers to care. KMA and its thousands of physician leaders have taken positive, actionable steps to help address these disparities.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, KMA recognized the need for patients to be able to access care from their physicians virtually and advocated for improvements to be made to telemedicine laws, regulations and insurance coverage. In 2018, KMA helped secure payment parity from health plans and Medicaid Managed Care Organizations to reimburse physicians at the same rate for services delivered in-person or via telemedicine. This groundbreaking new law allowed Kentucky to become one of the most friendly states for telemedicine services in the country. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this service has been of even greater importance, as patients in rural areas and those at higher risk for the virus were able to visit their physician from the safety of their homes. KMA has worked to make the transition to virtual care as smooth and accessible as possible, including successfully advocating for insurers to change their policies to allow telephone calls to be used in place of audio and video platforms, as those may be out of reach for some patients.
When much of society shut down last spring, this soon led to a decrease in the number of children who were up-to-date on their scheduled immunizations, particularly in communities of color and those in rural parts of the state. Through our “Be Well. Stay Well” initiative, KMA and the KFMC partnered with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to remind families of the importance of vaccinations through the “Raise Your Guard, KY” campaign. The effort specifically targeted areas of the state that exhibited a greater disparity in vaccination rates since the beginning of the pandemic, which included portions of Appalachia and urban areas in the state, eventually reaching more than 1.2 million Kentuckians.
KMA also encouraged its medical students to get involved in promoting awareness of the disparities in vaccination rates caused by the pandemic. We were pleased to share essays from each Medical Student Outreach and Leadership (MSOL) Program campus in our winter Communicator highlighting the barriers members of the Hispanic, African American and rural communities face in staying current on immunizations. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read them here.
In November, KMA partnered with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to present a webinar called, “SHIFTING THE LENS: COVID-19 Policy Lessons for Reducing Kentucky’s Health Inequities.” Presenters, including KMA physicians, shared lessons that policymakers, opinion leaders and health advocates can take away from Kentucky’s response to the pandemic, and spoke to policies that could be put in place both short and long-term to raise health outcomes for persons of color in the Commonwealth. The session was well-received and has opened doors to additional conversations around how physicians and the healthcare community can assist in eliminating disparities.
While I’m proud of the efforts of our KMA members to tackle such important but complex issues, there is certainly more work to be done to achieve health equity for all communities across the state. KMA and its thousands of physicians look forward to helping create a more equitable future for all Kentuckians.