Health care has become a major priority for voters in the past few decades, and the significance of individualized, culturally sensitive care that respects a patients’ beliefs and communication needs cannot be underscored enough, especially when it comes to HIV. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines cultural and linguistic competence as “the ability of health care providers and healthcare organizations to understand and respond effectively to the cultural and linguistic needs brought by the patient to the health care encounter.”
We continue to see large disparities in access to treatment and outcomes when it comes to HIV, with varying progress and challenges across the continuum. Many minority communities and those for whom English is a second language don’t access our system services and treatment at the same rate as others people because of fear of discrimination or in some communities access to translation services. This is in part due to the system not meeting their unique needs, which is compounded with the other reasons people living with HIV may experience such as interruptions or barriers to care as a result of stigma discrimination, language and cultural differences.
People are more likely to access and stay engaged in health care if the services reflect their unique cultural and linguistic needs — whether that’s through a more representative workforce, or being well-supported and trained to serve in diverse communities. Concerted action is needed to minimize inequities for those often left on the sidelines of the epidemic. Using the national Clinically and Linguistically Appropriate Services standards — a blueprint for advancing health equity, improving quality and helping eliminate health care disparities — can allow both individuals and health care organizations to have resources that make access to care more equitable and respectful of community needs.
So how does this connect to the upcoming election?
U.S. voters will choose a new Congress as the nation enters its third year of the COVID-19 public health emergency — one of the most current and blatant examples of the inequities that come for many when accessing care and treatment. Senator Patty Murray introduced a bill that states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “must award grants to health departments for their core infrastructure needs. In addition, the CDC must support the development of accreditation standards for health departments that emphasize core public health infrastructure. Health departments must meet those (or similar) standards as a condition of receiving grants beginning in FY2025.” This is a good step, however, for a responsive and effective public health infrastructure the Clinically and Linguistically Appropriate standards must be included for ensuring our often not considered communities understand how and where to access the care they need.
Both federal and state elections will have important consequences regarding the national goal of timely access to health care for all. Although Congress remains deeply divided on many issues, a few health policies do have bipartisan support. But if Republicans take control of the House or of both houses of Congress, contentious topics such as prescription drug pricing, COVID-19 and health insurance premium subsidies could be brought up — and their implications can be huge for the HIV sector.
It’s critical that we vote this November, as the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections will determine whether our health care goals can be achieved in the coming years.