Consider these well-known statistics: About 18.8 percent of African-Americans under the age of 65 do not have health insurance, minorities who live and work in low socioeconomic circumstances are at an increased risk for mortality, and Blacks have a higher death rate than Whites for treatable diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, according to federal statistics.
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And disparities in the national homicide rate by age, race and ethnicity are evident in the daily headlines, especially among Black males in urban areas, according to the Health Disparities and Inequities report released in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control, the most recent figures available.
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No one can ignore the fact that Blacks bear the most severe burden of HIV of all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., according to a report released last month by the CDC. Compared with other races and ethnicities, African Americans account for a higher proportion of HIV infections at all stages of disease—from new infections to death.
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The Obama administration hopes to address at least some of these issues through the Affordable Care Act, which is being rolled out in increments. And with April serving as National Minority Health Month, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, seized the moment to reflect on eliminating health disparities.
In a prepared statement released by the White House, Sebelius bolstered the CDC’s grim statistics, saying that while the nation has made significant progress in reducing health disparities over the last 50 years, historically minorities have been less likely to receive preventive care, and more likely to suffer from serious illnesses. She also pointed out that minorities have been less likely to have access to quality health care and insurance coverage.
“Because of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark legislation signed by President Obama, we are making strides in advancing quality, affordable health coverage regardless of race or ethnicity,” she said in the statement. “The health care law addresses the needs of minority populations and other underserved groups by investing in prevention, supporting improvements in primary care and Medicare, and making health care coverage affordable and accessible for all Americans. The theme for National Minority Health Month this year is ‘Advance Health Equity Now: Uniting Our Communities to Bring Health Care Coverage to All’.”
Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said the group has worked closely with Sebelius to help stamp out disparities and inequities in health care.
“It’s important that we don’t address health care with too broad of a brush,” he told NewsOne. “It has to be done surgically–no pun intended–because of disparities and inequities in minority health care. We do know that staying healthy relates to a variety of factors, including affordable health care, the environment and education. We really hope to educate people about the importance of preventive care.”
Shelton praised first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign for promoting healthy diets and community gardening, among other things. “She is doing great things to educate people about preventative health care. She’s showing people things they can do for themselves.”
Beyond that, later this year millions of Americans will gain access to health coverage that meets their needs and fits their budget no matter who they are or where they live, Sebelius said in the release. The new Health Insurance Marketplaces should give uninsured Americans or those who buy their own an easier way to shop for insurance coverage. Starting Oct. 1, 2013, Americans can enroll through the Marketplaces for health coverage beginning as early as Jan. 1, 2014.
“For the first time, Americans will be able to go to one place to learn about their coverage options and be able to make side-by-side comparisons of private insurance plans,” she said. “With a single application, they will also be able to find out if they qualify for a new kind of tax credit that lowers their monthly premiums. And because the law finally bans discrimination against pre-existing conditions like diabetes or asthma, nobody will be turned away because of their health status.”
Sebelius went on to urge Americans to use this month to seek new ways to evaluate health equity.
“Let’s recommit ourselves and our communities to act now to eliminate health disparities and increase access to quality care,” she said. “We cannot afford to wait.”