Health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities carry a steep cost, not only for the members of those communities but also for our country as a whole. Even as medical advances and technological development are helping Americans to live longer, healthier lives, many Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from sickness and disease.
But under the benefits of the Affordable Care Act — signed into law by President Obama two years ago today — all Americans can enjoy the promise of a better, healthier future. The act sets forth the most significant policies to reduce health disparities in our nation's history. And it's already making a difference.
Historically, one of the leading reasons for the higher prevalence of certain diseases among racial and ethnic minorities in America has been the lack of access to preventive care and insurance coverage. As a pediatrician who has cared for many minority and disadvantaged children, I have seen the impact of these disparities firsthand and the toll that preventable illness has on families and communities.
Under the new health care law, 86 million Americans now have access to free preventive services, such as cancer and diabetes screenings. That includes more than 2.4 million African-American seniors covered by Medicare who have already received free preventive services. In addition, 5.5 million African Americans with private health insurance can now receive preventive care with no out-of-pocket costs.
Furthermore, 10.4 million African Americans are now free of having to worry about lifetime limits on health benefits — so cancer patients and those suffering from other chronic diseases no longer have to worry about forgoing treatment because of fears about hitting their lifetime cap.
Insurance companies are now banned from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition, such as asthma or a heart defect. Today the new Pre-Existing Condition Plan offered in every state gives people who have been locked out of the insurance market an option for health insurance. And starting in 2014, insurance companies will be banned from discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition.
The Affordable Care Act is also making health care more accessible in underserved communities. The new health care law increases funding for community health centers — where nearly 26 percent of all patients treated in 2010 were African American. Through the National Health Service Corps program, the law is also providing new resources to increase the number of doctors, nurses and other health care providers in communities where they are needed the most, as well as enhancing the diversity of the health care workforce.
With the Affordable Care Act leading the way, we are making progress in the fight against health disparities — and I am more hopeful than ever that we will achieve the promise of health equity in this country.
Read more about how the Affordable Care Act benefits African Americans at Healthcare.gov.
J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., is the deputy assistant secretary for minority health (acting) of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.