A response to “Executive Order on Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery” and an argument for care equity.

President Biden’s latest executive order calls for decisive efforts to address inequities in care, exacerbated by COVID-19. Titled “Executive Order on Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery”, it announces the creation of a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force that will provide counsel to the president “for mitigating the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.”

MORE ON THE ORDER

The order begins with a direct address of the inequities our nation has been plagued with. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated severe and pervasive health and social inequities in America.” The president calls attention to inequities’ impact on people of color and minority populations, as well as those in geographically remote areas. He also directly addresses the systemic machinations at work that must be overcome, stating

“…people of color experience systemic and structural racism in many facets of our society and are more likely to become sick and die from COVID-19. The lack of complete data, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, on COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates, as well as underlying health and social vulnerabilities, has further hampered efforts to ensure an equitable pandemic response.”

Exec. Order No. 13995

But language access is missing from the order. Although Biden addresses many care inequities that impact minority populations, he fails to mention how basic communication and care breakdown when language barriers are present. Language access is a critical step towards equity of care, and it cannot be neglected.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR LANGUAGE ACCESS

The latest executive order outlines that the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will be advocating for “culturally aligned communication”, it doesn’t specifically mention support for limited English proficient, Deaf, or hard of hearing patients. The order states that the task force will be responsible for providing “recommendations for agencies regarding effective, culturally aligned communication, messaging, and outreach to communities of color and other underserved populations.” Language access has been specifically called for in healthcare in a number of existing laws and orders, like Executive Order 13166, and its availability is a standard practice. It is important that we do not stop advocating for that access as the healthcare landscape continues to rapidly change. We cannot allow innovation, or even reactionary changes, to outpace equality.

IN CONCLUSION

It is encouraging that care equity is a concern for the new administration. There are likely to be a slew of changes to healthcare under the nation’s new leadership, and we are keen to track what that means for the industry. However, language access for LEP, Deaf, and hard of hearing communities needs to be explicitly addressed as the government begins to take on disparities in healthcare. Otherwise, inequities will persist despite readily available solutions, and the gaps in care will continue to widen. We must advocate for language access as a critical part of the equity solution. It cannot be an afterthought.

RESOURCES

Exec. Order No. 13166, 3 C.F.R. 4 (2000).

Exec. Order No. 13995, 3 C.F.R. 4 (2021).