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Thursday, August 7, 2014

New Legislation Would Tackle Health Inequalities

Ben D'Avanzo

Special Projects Manager

Last week, Rep. Lucile Roybal-Allard, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s health task force, introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2014. This legislation is the latest effort by the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congressional Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus to enact a comprehensive plan to eliminate the health disparities that plague communities of color and other groups. In every legislative session since 2003, lawmakers have introduced similar bills seeking to improve health outcomes for minority groups. This legislation builds on the historic gains of the Affordable Care Act to address the disproportionate burden of chronic disease and life-threatening conditions facing people of color. 

Addressing racial and ethnic health disparities is critical to the future of our nation and our health care system

Health disparities hurt all of us. A study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that between 2003 and 2006, the cost of health inequities and premature death in the United States was $1.24 trillion dollars. That’s why it’s essential, as we become an increasingly diverse nation, to ensure that all Americans have equal access to quality health care.

The Health Equity and Accountability Act offers a solid plan to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities

This legislation proposes a broad array of strategies to address barriers to equal health opportunity for communities of color. Strategies include, but are not limited to: 

  • improving data collection
  • making health coverage more accessible
  • improving health systems
  • authorizing grants to fight diseases faced predominantly by minority communities
  • increasing and diversifying the health care work force
  • expanding access to rural health clinics

Provisions to increase health care access for immigrants and limited English speakers

The HEAA would eliminate the Medicaid ban on health coverage for immigrant adults. Currently, adult legal immigrants are subject to what amounts to a five-year waiting period before they can enroll in Medicaid. This action would follow in the footsteps of the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) which removed this barrier for legal immigrant children and pregnant women in 2009.

The bill also tackles the daunting barriers confronted by those with limited English proficiency (LEP). As the Kaiser Family Foundation reported, limited English speakers are less likely to seek preventive care even if they are insured and are more likely to report negative health care experiences. The HEAA sets standards for cultural and linguistic services in federal health programs, establishes grants to improve health care for populations with low health literacy, and adds essential language access to the services that providers in the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplaces must offer.

Eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities must be a national priority

Along with Families USA, nearly 350 national, state, and local organizations endorse the HEAA. Think of what Congress could achieve if our leaders committed to focusing on one of the most challenging and critical health issues facing our nation.

Call your representative to ask him or her to endorse the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2014. By doing so, lawmakers will be taking an important step toward eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities and creating the equitable, high-quality health care system that our nation deserves. 

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