Prevention Is Power: Using the Affordable Care Act to Tackle Minority Health Disparities

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(Cross-posted from the Families USA blog.)

By Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, Director of Health Equity, Families USA
Priscilla Huang, Policy Director, Asian & Pacific Islander Health Forum
Noel Manyindo, Senior Director, Community Health, National Urban League
Steven López, Senior Health Policy Analyst, NCLR

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In honor of National Minority Health Month, Families USA, the Asian and Pacific Islander Health Forum, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Urban League have joined forces to promote the power of prevention to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

workersApril is National Minority Health Month, and this year’s theme is “Prevention Is Power.” With the first open enrollment period behind us, it’s a good time to discuss how the Affordable Care Act provides not just better health coverage options, but also the tools to help us reduce the health disparities among racial and ethnic minority communities.

Minority communities bear a disproportionate disease burden

Communities of color face grave disparities in health and health care that undermine the well-being of families and their financial futures. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, people of color are more likely to get sick with certain conditions, such as diabetesasthma, and certain cancers. And when they do develop these diseases, they tend to be more likely to lead to complications and even premature death. This is especially true for common chronic diseases that are preventable and that can be effectively managed if detected early. For example, this infographic summarizes some of the top disparities that affect African Americans. Preventing chronic diseases not only saves money, it gives people many more healthy, productive years, which creates stronger, more resilient communities.

For instance, early diagnosis and effective management of diabetes—which is preventable in many cases—can mean the difference between having a relatively normal life and experiencing disabling, life-threatening complications, including amputations, blindness, intractable nerve pain, and end-stage kidney disease. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are, respectively, 60 percent70 percent, and 210 percent more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

People of color with diabetes are also more likely to suffer serious complications than are non-Hispanic whites with diabetes. For example, African Americans with diabetes are one-third more likely to be visually impaired, twice as likely to have a lower extremity amputation, more than twice as likely to have end-stage kidney disease, and more than twice as likely to die of the disease.Latinos with diabetes are 60 percent more likely to have end-stage kidney disease and 40 percent more likely to die of the disease. Early detection and effective treatment can usually prevent these complications.

HEALTH child getting ear checked_newsizeAccess to preventive care can help close the health disparities gap

Having access to preventive health care can make a difference with other serious, chronic conditions too. Hepatitis B is responsible for 80 percent of liver cancers, and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately affected by this disease. One in 12 Asian Americans has Hepatitis B, and they are more than two and a half times as likely to be diagnosed with liver disease than whites, and more than twice as likely to die of the disease.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is another example. HPV causes cervical cancer, which is more prevalent and deadly among Latinas and African Americans. Vaccination, early detection, and treatment can all drastically reduce these figures. Click here for an infographic on the impact of cervical cancer on Latinas.

The Affordable Care Act provides free preventive care to those with health insurance

Preventive services can greatly reduce the impact of high-disparity conditions like diabetes, Hepatitis B, and certain cancers, among others. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, these tools are within reach for more people than ever before.

Now, health insurance plans must cover a list of preventive services at no additional cost, including an annual checkup, immunizations, birth control, mental health screenings, and screenings for hypertension and for cervical, breast, and prostate cancer. For those without insurance, community health centers will provide care regardless of someone’s immigration status, criminal background, or ability to pay. Find one near you here.

Consistent, quality preventive health care offers consumers and their families a better life

Prevention is power: It is the power to live better, to protect your productivity, and to safeguard your well-being (and your family’s). Prevention allows you to choose a path that saves you money, along with blood, sweat, and tears. And it can mean the difference between life and death.

But these very powerful tools work only if each of us makes the commitment to use them. Talk about the power of prevention with your family at the dinner table. Spread the word in your community. Help equip the trusted leaders in your communities of faith so that they can share this good news with those around them.

We all have a role to play in making the power of prevention a reality not only for our own good, but for the good of our families, our communities, and a stronger, healthier nation.

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