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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Affordable Care Act Is Improving Women of Color’s Access to Health Care

Emmett Ruff

Health Equity Intern

As evidence piles up on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is helping millions of Americans obtain health care, new data offer encouraging evidence that women of color are reaping the benefits of the ACA—enjoying more reliable access to health care and less trouble affording the care they need. 

In June, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report showing that more women of color now have a usual source of health care—such as a doctor’s office, clinic, or health center. Having a “usual source of care” is a key indicator of reliable access to ongoing, coordinated, quality health care. The report also noted that women of color are having less trouble affording this health care. 

Between 2010 and 2014, there were significant decreases in the percentage of women of color reporting no usual source of care. Specifically: 

  • The percentage of African American women reporting no usual source of care dropped by nearly 30 percent 
  • The percentage of Latinas reporting no usual source of care fell by almost 25 percent 

In addition, the percentage of Latinas who reported delaying or forgoing care due to cost dropped by nearly 25 percent, and by almost 20 percent for African American and Asian and Pacific Islander women. 

Increased access to health insurance is clearly improving women of color’s access to timely care

Generally, health care advocates have focused on reducing the rate of people without health insurance as a critical first step in expanding health care access. 

And we celebrated the historic drops following the ACA in the uninsured rates among African American women (42 percent), Latinas (36 percent), Asian and Pacific Islander women (46 percent), and American Indian and Alaska Native women (25 percent). 

However, we also understand that having an insurance card doesn’t automatically result in being able to see a doctor when you need to—especially for people of color.

Even with health insurance, people face additional barriers to care, such as finding providers within a reasonable distance that are taking patients, lack of transportation to get to appointments, language barriers, office hours that do not fit work schedules, and unaffordable co-pays and deductibles. Read more about this: Improving Private Insurance Networks for Communities of Color.

This new data from HHS proves that the ACA is helping to break down some of these barriers. In addition to providing women of color with health insurance, it is helping them get timely, affordable, high-quality care. 

Increasing access to care is essential to reducing the health disparities women of color face

As more women of color enroll in health insurance and are able to get care, they can better prevent and manage the serious and chronic health conditions that affect them disproportionately. These include conditions like diabetes, asthma, cervical cancer, and breast cancer.

For example, compared to white women, African American women are 90 percent more likely to have diabetes and Latinas are 60 percent more likely to be diabetic

Puerto Rican and African American women are also more likely to have asthma, with rates that are 80 percent and 20 percent higher, respectively, than white women.  

Disparities extend to women’s reproductive health as well. African American and Hispanic women have higher rates of cervical cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women (over 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively) and black women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.  

While many factors that contribute to these disparities, getting preventive care, early detection, and treatment to manage these conditions and prevent complications is necessary to reduce avoidable deaths and help women of color lead longer, healthier, more productive lives.    

As health equity advocates, we need to make sure future efforts focus on building on these successes

The ACA has been making an enormous difference in improving the lives of millions of people, especially for women of color, who make up a growing share of the U.S. population, but still face disproportionate challenges to living safe and healthy lives. 

While this new data is good news, we must build on this progress to ensure that everyone, including those most vulnerable, has access to affordable and high-quality health care.