HHS Acts to End Healthcare Disparities Among Minorities

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued guidelines to reduce disparities in healthcare for racial and ethnic minorities.  “We need to make sure we eliminate disparities in America,” said Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).  For too many years, racial and ethnic minorities “have had less access, less treatment and less research.”

The HHS Action Plan to Reduce Health Disparities relies heavily on provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The plan’s five major goals are: to transform healthcare; strengthen the national health and human services workforce; advance the public’s health and well-being; implement a new health data collection and analysis strategy; and increase efficiency, transparency and accountability so that assessments of policies and programs on health disparities will become a part of all HHS decision-making.

Minorities still trail other Americans in many health outcome measures.  They are less likely to get preventive care, more likely to suffer from serious illnesses — such as diabetes or heart disease — and when they do get sick, they are less likely to have access to quality healthcare.  The Affordable Care Act can potentially address the needs of racial and ethnic minorities, by cutting healthcare costs, investing in prevention and wellness, supporting primary-care improvements, and creating links between the traditional realms of health and social services.  “For the first time, the United States has a coordinated road map designed to give everyone the chance to live a healthy life,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “We all need to work together to combat this persistent problem so that we can build healthier communities and a stronger nation.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two of five Latinos and one of five African-Americans lack insurance. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has found that about 30 percent of Hispanics and 20 percent of African-Americans have no regular source of healthcare, compared with 16 percent of whites.  In treatments for serious illnesses, minorities constantly lag behind whites.  Blacks are one-third less likely to have bypass surgery than whites and significantly less likely to receive children’s medications for asthma.  Additionally, they are more likely to be uninsured.  The minority population currently represents the fastest growing segment of the American population, according to Census Bureau data.

“Health disparities have burdened our country for too long,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH.  “This plan reaffirms and revitalizes a national commitment to helping all persons reach their full health potential.”  Communities can use the National Stakeholder Strategy to identify the goals that are most imperative and adopt effective strategies and action steps to reach them.

The plans ask that federal agencies and their partners to cooperate on the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities.  “Where people live, learn, work and play affects their health as much as their access to healthcare,” said Garth Graham, MD, MPH, deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of the HHS Office of Minority Health.  “We have to confront the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities if we are to fulfill the President’s goal of ‘winning the future.”

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