Grant Funding for Health Equity: Addressing Diversity and Inclusion by Providing Language Access Programs

According to the October 31, 2015 New York Times, “America’s major philanthropies are focusing on big-picture issues like climate change and income inequality with an eye toward rapid results.” This focus is further explained by New York University professor Richard A. Marker: “The philanthropy world is changing the way it wants to address the overriding questions. Don’t just say, ‘How can we give people more food?’ They are talking about the eradication of food insecurity. They are becoming more systemic in their thinking.”

To be successful with grant funding efforts, non-profit organizations must mirror the “systemic” approach and “big picture” dynamic of the nation’s most prominent funders. Thinking “big picture” solutions extends to issues of health equity, with language services and cultural awareness  being seen as critical to alleviating health and economic disparities that often result from language and cultural barriers.

Grant Funders Turn Toward Language Access

Though Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that recipients of federal funding deliver meaningful access to their services through effective language assistance, many organizations have struggled with implementing and paying for federally required language services for limited English proficient clients. Now, however, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) offers significant financial resources for addressing the “big picture,” including disparities based on race, language, national origin, and disability.

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), an independent, non-profit health research organization that was authorized by the PPACA, has awarded $71.8 million for 41 studies addressing health disparities (as of September 2014).

PCORI is especially interested in innovative care strategies that overcome barriers to care (including language and culture) that may adversely affect patients and their healthcare options. For example, in 2015, PCORI awarded a $2.5 million grant to a major academic medical center to study the impact of language access on clinical outcomes for limited English Proficient patients.

Other grant making entities, including federal and state government agencies, are also awarding grants to support innovations that address equity, including how use of a language service provider can improve communications with deaf victims of domestic violence.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation also promotes the developing and testing of innovative health care payment and service delivery models, including innovations focused on the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) population.

Plans to Address Health Equity Focus on U.S. LEP Population

In September 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled its first ever plan to address health equity in Medicare. The CMS Equity Plan for Improving Quality in Medicare (CMS Equity Plan for Medicare) includes six priority areas and aims to reduce health disparities in four years. The Equity Plan focuses on Medicare populations experiencing disproportionately high rates of disease, lower quality of care, and barriers accessing care. These populations include racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, disabled people, and people living in rural areas. Among the Action Plan’s six priority areas, Priority 5 focuses on communication – “Improve Communication and Language Access for Individuals with Limited English Proficiency and Persons with Disabilities.”

To further its health equity priorities, CMS announced in November 2015 the availability of $32 million in new funding to support outreach efforts to families with children eligible for Medicaid and CHIP. CMS’s funding will support activities aimed at alerting families to the availability of free or low-cost health coverage under Medicaid and CHIP, identifying children likely to be eligible, and assisting families with the application and renewal process. Examples of target populations include teens, Latino children and children in rural areas.

With funders’ renewed commitment to addressing “systemic,” “big picture” issues, health care providers and other community health and social service agencies have greater opportunities to seek funding to assist with federal mandates as well as to enhance the outcomes of their patients and clients. The present environment is ideally suited to those organizations willing to propose innovative, outside-the-box ideas to peak funders’ interest and satisfy the current “systemic” approach in funding and development.

Special for Bromberg by Valerie Adelson

Valerie Adelson is a law, fundraising and development consultant.

©Valerie A. Adelson  All Rights Reserved