When it comes to minority healthcare issues, a meeting of the minds is worthwhile as the White House huddles on it today. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, approximately 36 percent of the population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group.
This is especially true when representatives of different minority groups come together to express their concerns and opinions about racial and ethnic disparities uniquely relevant to their communities. Furthermore, raising awareness and effective communication leads to better teamwork. A congruence of ideas and recommendations usually translates into a call to action and progress.
“Housing policy is health policy. Educational policy is health policy. Antiviolence policy is health policy,” says Dr. David Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health in the documentary series Unnatural Causes. “Neighborhood improvement policies are health policies. Everything that we can do to improve the quality of life of individuals in our society has an impact on their health and is a health policy.”
Public policy that drives inequities can be changed.
April is National Minority Health Month. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the White House planned a Minority Healthcare forum to discuss racial and ethnic health disparities in minority communities with stakeholder groups and minority bloggers. The achievements of the Affordable Care Act, enacted to make healthcare less expensive and accessible, is also on the agenda.
Though health indicators such as life expectancy and infant mortality have improved for most Americans, some minorities experience a disproportionate burden of preventable disease, death, and disability compared with non-minorities. They are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy and have access to quality health care. Minorities are also more likely to receive unequal medical treatment.
Children living in poverty are about seven times more likely to be in poor or fair health than children living in high-income households. Middle class children are twice as likely to be in poor or fair health as those at the top.
But, the racial and ethnic health inequities don’t just reflect income. More African American, Native American, Latino and Pacific Islanders are in poor or less fair health than Whites at practically every income level (although recent Latino immigrants report better health).
A caveat is that most of the risk factors associated with poor health for minorities such as heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, sleep apnea, and obesity are preventable and controllable.
As of 2007, African American men were 30% more likely to die from heart disease than were non-Hispanic White men. African American adults of both genders are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure and 10% less likely than their White counterparts to have their blood pressure under control. African Americans also have the highest rate of high blood pressure of all population groups, and they tend to develop it earlier in life than others.
The FY 2013 budget request from HHS includes an increase of $78,210,000 for Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from the Affordable Care Act Prevention and Public Health Fund for a total of $903,210,000 of the $1,250,000,000 that is available.
According to the CDC, the Prevention and Public Health Fund (Prevention Fund) helps win the future in health by empowering communities to support longer, healthier, more productive lives by preventing heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other disabling, costly, deadly conditions; improving health protection agencies’ capacity to detect and control threats; and identifying and monitoring the health system’s successes and challenges.
The American Medical Association (AMA) has enacted policies and activities which seek to avoid fragmentation of health plans along socioeconomic status lines and strengthen the stability of patient-provider relationships in publicly funded health plans. They also seek to increase the proportion of underrepresented US racial and ethnic minorities among health professionals and apply the same managed care protections to publicly funded HMO enrollees that apply to private HMO enrollees.
Inequities in minority health care can be eliminated when there is a clear pathway regarding the objectives to promote healthy behaviors. The implementation of transparent programs and intervention services along with proper allocation of resources is necessary to close health care gaps and decrease priority disparities.
That being said, a proactive discussion about minority healthcare can “make it better” by providing insight and increasing community awareness. Education about the connection between racial and ethnic disparities, as well as socio-economic conditions, can oftentimes make it preventable, too.