URBAN AGENDA: Helping Black and Brown Communities Access Health Care Amid COVID-19

David R. Jones, Esq., President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York | 5/26/2020, 2:10 p.m.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed appalling but familiar gaps in our health care system, especially for low-income New Yorkers, communities of ...
David R. Jones Contributed

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed appalling but familiar gaps in our health care system, especially for low-income New Yorkers, communities of color, residents with special needs and those in culturally and linguistically isolated communities. The economic fallout of the pandemic has also generated an unprecedented need for assistance accessing health care and coverage among people who have lost their job-based coverage, were previously uninsured, or cannot afford care.

Consider this: more than 1 million New Yorkers have lost job-based coverage as a result of COVID-19, the majority of whom are black and brown. Indeed, African Americans in New York City reported losing health insurance twice as often as white New Yorkers (14 percent of all households compared to 6 percent).

Since the outset of the pandemic, and its profound and disparate impact on black and brown communities (black New Yorkers are more than twice as likely to have died from COVID-19 as white New Yorkers), there’s been a great deal made of the need to seize this moment to address systemic problems and structural inequities that created this crisis. Of course, the seeds of this crisis were planted many decades ago, the result of federal and state policies that systematically denied resources, opportunities and protections to communities of color in favor of white communities. COVID-19 has just brought them into stark focus.

Here is what we should all know by now: Fixing our healthcare system and addressing chronic health disparities will not happen until we as a society seriously confront the perception that black and brown lives are disposable. Of equal importance is committing to institutional reforms and systemic changes that provide care based on need, not community wealth or ability to lobby. This includes targeting precious federal and state resources to the safety-net providers, like Health + Hospitals, who provide the lion’s share of care to low-income communities of color.

In the meantime, New York City can help bridge the gap in the delivery of healthcare by fully supporting community-based organizations (CBOs) on the frontlines providing much-needed health care advocacy assistance to New Yorkers whose medical needs have become increasingly unmet by an overwhelmed healthcare system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MCCAP: A Crucial Lifeline to Communities of Color

During these dire times, the Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program (MCCAP) is an important community-driven tool that can help right the wrongs of the disparities in our health care system. [Full Disclosure: Community Service Society (CSS) coordinates the MCCAP program.] MCCAP uses a "hub-and-spokes" model to provide services to some of the city’s most marginalized communities. CSS acts as the hub with its live, toll-free helpline, while advocates at 12 CBOs serve as the spokes that provide in-person services in every borough. Note: due to the current restrictions, MCCAP CBOs are providing remote services to New Yorkers in need.

MCCAP provides services to these clients in more than 15 languages and at 15 different locations across all five boroughs. The advocates are trained and supported by CSS to help people understand their insurance, resolve health insurance problems, get medical services, and access affordable care for those who are uninsured.