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Thursday, January 28, 2016

How Health Insurance Can Help Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Yasmin Peled

Health Equity Intern

Communities of color have long struggled with health disparities when it comes to the prevalence and outcomes of many conditions compared to non-Hispanic whites. This means that not only are these communities more likely to have conditions like diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers, they are also more likely to be sicker and even die from them. While there are many factors that determine someone’s health status, access to care—especially preventive services—is critical to narrowing the health disparities gap for some conditions that disproportionately burden communities of color. 

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health coverage must now cover preventive care at no extra charge, and before the consumer has to meet his or her deductible. This is good news for people who don’t think they can afford health coverage or who might not know that preventive care under the ACA is free. 

Because preventable and manageable diseases continue to take a toll on communities of color, we have released this series of infographics that illustrate the link between free preventive care and several disparity conditions for African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian and Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. These culturally-relevant graphics can help community leaders, advocates, and enrollment assisters in their efforts to motivate underserved communities to get covered.  

Health insurance provides free preventive care that can help reduce health disparities

Our nation’s persistent racial and ethnic health disparities are well documented, but the ACA’s insurance improvements can help narrow these gaps. Preventive services can eliminate or delay the onset of disease, as well as detect diseases early. This often makes it easier and cheaper to treat or manage health problems and avoid expensive, life-altering, even life-threatening complications. 

For example, getting the right preventive care means that pre-diabetes doesn’t have to turn into full-blown diabetes, which can keep someone from losing her leg, sight, or life. Early detection can mean the difference between catching pre-cancerous cervical cells early enough to treat locally instead of cervical cancer that spreads, potentially leading to hysterectomy or loss of fertility. 

There are already promising reports of how the increased availability of preventive care under the ACA’s expanded insurance options is making a difference. The New York Times reported a rise in the detection of early cervical cancer that was linked to more widely available ACA coverage. Higher rates of early detection are actually a good thing, because there are better, more effective treatment options when diseases are caught earlier. 

This bodes well for African American and Latina women, who have significantly higher mortality rates from this preventable cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women: Latinas are 35 percent more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women, and black women are twice as likely to die from it.

In addition, there have been reports of increases in breast cancer screenings (mammograms) and people diagnosed with diabetes due to ACA coverage—both major disparity conditions that, if detected and treated early, result in much better outcomes. This is also good news for women of color: Native Hawaiian and African American women have much higher breast cancer mortality rates than non-Hispanic white women, at 60 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Similarly, diabetes is deadlier for Latinos, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and African Americans.  

Diabetes is deadlier for people of color compared to non-Hispanic whites:

  • American Indian and Alaska Natives are 80 percent more likely to die from diabetes
  • Latinos are 80 percent more likely to die from diabetes
  • African Americans are 2.1 times as likely to die from diabetes

Open enrollment ends in just a few days—act fast to get covered

Of course, preventive care is only one of the 10 essential benefits that marketplace plans cover. There are many other reasons it is vitally important that people take advantage of open enrollment to sign up for health insurance, such as making sure they can get the treatments they need to manage any health conditions that are diagnosed at check-ups and preventive screenings. 

Open enrollment for marketplace coverage ends on January 31 (unless consumers qualify for a special enrollment period), so it’s time for health care advocates and enrollment assisters to make one final push to get consumers enrolled. Getting consumers covered and using their preventive care benefits can have a significant impact on reducing health disparities and improving the overall health of communities of color across the nation.