Coming Together to Combat Health Disparities
September 19 2011
By Kara D. Ryan, Senior Research Analyst, Health Policy Project, NCLR
A health insurance card may be your ticket in to the doctor’s office, but it may not always guarantee the care and treatment that you need. If you are Latino—or hail from another community of color—you have a greater chance of suffering from a serious health condition in your lifetime. Once you are ill, you are more likely to have poorer health outcomes.
For example, Hispanic and Black adults are nearly two times more likely than Whites to have been diagnosed with diabetes, an often preventable and always treatable chronic disease. Even more startling: among diabetics, Hispanic and Blacks are more likely than Whites to have a foot or leg amputated and the death rate for diabetes is nearly 50% higher for Latinos than for Whites. The avoidable complications, like the troubling rates of amputations, are often the result of an inequitable health care system where people of color experience lower quality of and access to care, regardless of where they fall on the income scale.
Driving these health disparities are economic and structural barriers that make it difficult for racial and ethnic minorities to access a full range of affordable, high-quality health care services. The increase in racially segregated living spaces means that minority neighborhoods have less infrastructure that encourages good health, too. And on top of that, everything from your sex to your sexual orientation may contribute to obstacles to good health care. Immigration and citizenship statuses are often challenges that hinder access for millions, particularly Latinos and Asian Americans; in fact, nine out of ten uninsured noncitizens are racial and ethnic minorities. If implemented properly, health care reform stands to make a considerable difference in narrowing health disparities in our communities. But there is another opportunity to build on the foundation of the Affordable Care Act and further strengthen the promise of equity.
That’s why NCLR is thrilled by the introduction of “The Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2011” (HEAA), comprehensive legislation that would build on the gains of the health care reform law to improve the health and well-being of Latinos and other communities of color.
Introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D–CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D–CA), and Donna Christensen (D–VI) on behalf of the Congressional Tri-Caucus and with 68 total original cosponsors, the HEAA is supported by a broad spectrum of policymakers and advocates representing communities of color and other critical disparities populations, sending a strong message that additional tools and investments are necessary to realize the vision of health equity for all Americans.
This legislation moves us closer to health equity by helping to integrate communities who will remain vulnerable even after health reform is fully implemented. For example, the HEAA would eliminate access barriers for immigrant families, such as the removal of the federal five-year waiting period to health and nutrition programs currently faced by legal immigrants. The bill takes a broad approach, incorporating not only strategies to improve access to care but also community-based strategies that address social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities.
NCLR supports the HEAA and commends the Tri-Caucus for its continuing commitment to improving the health and well-being of communities of color. NCLR looks forward to working with members of Congress, organizational partners, and a network of advocates to advance policies that tackle systemic barriers to affordable quality health care and allow all Americans an equal opportunity to be healthy.
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Issues: Health, Health Care Reform, Health Care Disparities, Latino Children’s Health
Geography:California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Texas