Lawmakers, HHS Seek to Redress Healthcare Disparities

Legislation to combat alarming disease rates in minorities

Amoxicillin (Generic Term) Antibiotics PerscriptionRacial and ethnic minorities have higher rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS than whites, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. In fact, 48% of African American adults suffer from a chronic disease compared with 39% of the general population.

Seeking to address the disparities, black, Latino and Asian lawmakers Tuesday introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2009, which outlines their priorities for healthcare reform—particularly the need to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities that exist under the current healthcare system.  The bill is designed to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and address a number of other issues important to communities of color while improving the national healthcare system for all Americans.

Both HHS and the Congressional TriCaucus – comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — consider access to quality care as vital to health and wellness, and acknowledge that health insurance plays a key role. However, racial and ethnic minorities and low-income populations experience serious disparities in rates of insurance and access to healthcare.

Just under one in five African Americans – are uninsured. In comparison, only about one in eight Whites lacks health insurance, according to the HHS report, “Health Disparities: A Case for Closing the Gap.”

“Today over 47 million people lack health insurance in America and although racial and ethnic minorities account for about one third of U.S. population, they account for more than half of the uninsured,” said CBC Chair Rep. Barbara Lee of California. “The Congressional TriCaucus stands together and speaks with one voice to demand health care reform now, and to demand an end to the factors that perpetuate racial and ethnic health disparities in this country.”

Seven out of 10 African Americans between the ages 18 to 64 are obese or overweight, and African Americans are 15% more likely to suffer from obesity than whites, according to the report. African Americans are more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.  African Americans also experience new HIV infections at seven times the rate of Whites, and Hispanics experience new HIV infections at two and a half times the rate of Whites.
With unemployment on the rise, the disparities already apparent among these groups will continue to increase, according the HHS.

The lawmakers’ bill would also strengthen the Office of Minority Health within the Department of Health and Human Services, expand racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trials, and integrate community-centric health efforts into health reform.

At a discussion of minority health issues at the White House, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the Obama administration is committed to addressing the disparity in the delivery of quality healthcare, writes the Associated Press.

She notes that minorities are more likely to be uninsured and are less likely to have access to quality care when they need it. “We are here today,” she says, “because we all agree the system is broken, and we have to all work together to do something about it.”

Healthcare reform is a top priority of President Barack Obama’s administration. Congressional committees have already begun working on the overhaul, and the Senate Health Committee released a draft bill Tuesday. The Affordable Health Choices Act seeks to expand medical insurance coverage to all Americans, reduce healthcare costs, make health coverage affordable to the uninsured, and better coordinate healthcare.

“Healthcare reform cannot and must not wait,” said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D.-Conn.), who helped author the legislation. Today, we “introduce legislation that will strengthen what works and fix what doesn’t.”

However, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus warned Democratic leaders that any bill overhauling healthcare that didn’t correct the health gaps between whites and minorities would have a difficult time being passed.

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