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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Keeping Health Care Disparities in the Conversation

Tara Bostock

Staff Writer

Communities of color are affected disproportionately in infant mortality rates, in diabetes deaths, in obesity rates, and in preventable deaths. On Friday morning, Dr. David Satcher, the 16th U.S. surgeon general; Janet Murguía, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza; and Toni Lewis, chair of SEIU health care division joined Families USA conference attendees to talk about the importance of making sure health care disparities are part of the discussion during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The speakers talked about the staggering inequities still present among our communities of color. As Toni Lewis pointed out—it's a simple equation, the higher rates of chronic disease, unemployment, and poverty in these communities leads to shorter, sicker lives. But there's hope—the Affordable Care Act is a key tool to addressing these disparities. The expansion of Medicaid and the premium tax credits in the exchanges will provide more families with coverage. The increased data collection called for in the Affordable Care Act will help us catch where and how these disparities are occurring. And a greater effort toward cultural competency will help people understand their providers and their providers understand them, which will lead to higher-quality care.

But, we have to protect the health care foundation that the Affordable Care Act set up and the safety nets that provide important care to these communities—such as Medicare and Medicaid. Cuts to these programs will make it increasingly harder for people in these communities to get the important care they need—as a report co-released by Families USA, Medicaid: A Lifeline for Blacks and Latinos with Serious Health Care Needs shows, African Americans and Hispanics with chronic health issues depend on Medicare and Medicaid to get their needed care.

Our speakers told us that it will be vital to make sure that health disparities stay on the minds of legislators as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act moves forward. And we need to make sure we keep the health care foundation that we've already built, strong. As President Obama said last year at Families USA's conference: "As vital as this reform is, (and) as committed as we are to getting implementation right, to win the future in this new and changing world is going to require more from us. And I believe we are up to the task."