Racial and ethnic minorities account for one third of the population but make up one half of the uninsured. This lack of access to care leaves these groups unfairly saddled with much higher rates of chronic and preventable diseases than their fellow Americans. Fortunately, for all of us, there is finally hope for real progress in sight. The Affordable Care Act has made significant progress in closing the gap, and shows no signs of stopping.
Already, $103 million in community transformation grants have been awarded to 61 municipalities to fight chronic disease on the community level. These programs address the root causes of disease in a way that focuses on addressing health disparities head on. This money goes to communities committed to improving infrastructure to encourage exercise, making school lunches more nutritious, educating citizens on risk factors for chronic diseases or chronic disease management, and focusing on those with limited access to care. Coupled with the mandate that Medicaid and many private insurance companies must offer checkups and other preventative care for free, more people will have a chance to identify risk factors for disease and start getting healthier.
Further, the ACA will support 16,000 new community health centers all across the country, this is on top of the 1,200 that already exist and provide care to 20 million people who may not have access otherwise. These centers serve as a primary care facility for one in four low income minority residents, and are located chiefly in underserved communities. This means that patients won’t have to miss work or take costly trips to get the care that they and their families need. Community health centers accept government and most private insurance, and charge patients on a sliding scale depending on how much they are able to pay; they do not turn anyone away based on their income or insurance status.
Getting proper care is impossible if you cannot effectively communicate with your doctor, and this is a situation that many who do not speak English must face every time they need medical attention. New initiatives are now in place to increase cultural competency among health care professionals, and incentives and loan repayment plans help people from a variety of previously underrepresented groups become health care providers. This means that more doctors and nurses will be able to speak the languages of their patients, and understand the specific health risks of their patients’ communities.
And finally, something to look forward to: In 2014 the government will begin giving small businesses tax credits to insure their employees. As the fastest growing group of small business owners, Latinos will certainly benefit. Insurance exchanges will be created to provide a much simpler and more affordable way for everyone to find health insurance. Those who are currently baffled by the complicated, decentralized, and prohibitively costly process of finding health coverage will be able to easily compare benefits and prices in one market place and get a tax credit to offset costs to boot
The Affordable Care Act is the most ground breaking piece of legislation passed in our lifetimes to address health disparities. This law will grant access to quality health care to an estimated 32 million people who would not have been able to afford it otherwise. These are children, young adults, minorities, men, and women who no longer have to worry about being bankrupted by a catastrophic health event or suffer through a chronic illness with little or no support. They can now focus on a brighter future, more fair and equitable health care access for our communities and the freedom to pursue the American dream.