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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The new law and communities of color

Communities of color continue to face obstacles in the health care setting: they are more likely to be uninsured, to be in poorer health, and to receive lower-quality care. But thanks to the new health reform law, we’ll start to see  movement in closing this unacceptable gap.  The Affordable Care Act has a number of provisions aimed at lessening racial and ethnic health disparities in an effort to make the health care system fairer for all Americans.

Among these, the provisions aimed at expanding coverage (through both public programs and private insurance) are significant and necessary to address health disparities. Having health insurance is a crucial factor in securing access to care and also improving overall health outcomes. This expansion of coverage to more than 30 million people will have a huge impact on communities of color, who are more likely to be uninsured. Other important provisions in the new law will improve the health of communities of color including the new patient protections (no pre-existing condition exclusions, no higher premiums for sick people, no losing coverage when people get sick, etc.), increases in funding for community health centers, efforts to increase workforce diversity, improvements in data collection on racial and ethnic disparities, and tax credits for small businesses.  

Families USA has released resources that help explain what these provisions are and how they will help communities of color. The first is a series of 30 state fact sheets, How Health Reform Helps Communities of Color, which look at how select provisions will affect communities of color in specific states. Check out this great resource to learn more about how communities of color will benefit in your state. Families USA has also released fact sheets that detail how the new law will benefit specific communities: African AmericansAmerican Indians and Native AlaskansAsian Americans, Latinos, and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders.

Racial and ethnic health disparities have cast a negative shadow over the health care system for decades. Despite the best intentions of policymakers and health administrators, these inequalities have become embedded in the system. The provisions in the new law present the greatest opportunity we’ve had in decades to truly acknowledge and confront disparities in health. As implementation continues over the next few months and years, we will hopefully begin to see a fairer system with communities of color reaping the much-needed benefits of reform.