By Emily McKinley, Health Information Specialist
The Affordable Care Act was designed not only to ensure access to health care for all Americans but also to reduce health care disparities between gender, ethnic, and racial groups. This month’s update focuses on the ACA initiatives aimed at improving minority health.
All Americans will benefit from provisions such as free preventative care for insured individuals, elimination of lifetime limits and pre-existing condition exclusions, and increased coverage for young adults on their parents’ insurance policies. Additionally, in states that choose to capitalize on the Medicaid Expansion set forth by the legislation, but ruled optional by the Supreme Court, low-income individuals will also have access to coverage.
The Medicaid Expansion is a key piece of the legislation in terms of minority health. Because socio-economic status is often intertwined with race and ethnicity, minorities are most likely to benefit from this protective provision. According to the American Psychological Association, African American children are three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children, and Native American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic families are also more likely than Caucasian families to live in poverty. Thus, the Medicaid Expansion is essential to capturing low-income families, including minorities, and serving all Americans.
Further, studies have shown that minorities are also less likely to seek out preventative care and prenatal services. The ACA not only ensures that preventative care is affordable and accessible to all covered individuals, but it also establishes maternity and prenatal services among the essential health benefits that insurers are required to cover. Such benefits not only reduce the risk of chronic and debilitating illness but are also aimed at lowering infant mortality rates as well as the incidence of detectable and preventative birth defects.
Another initiative, the reauthorization and appropriation of funds for the Office of Minority Health is perhaps the most impactful element of the legislation insofar as minorities are concerned. This agency, which falls under the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with reducing health disparities while implementing programs designed to improve the overall wellness of minority populations and increase data recording and reporting relating to these populations. As part of this initiative, offices of minority health were developed within each of six agencies, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Food and Drug Administration, among others. Further, the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities was named an institution unto itself and removed from the auspices of the National Institutes of Health. With these changes, the ACA supports development of community programming and services while introducing initiatives to improve the overall wellness of minorities. For more information on these offices and the initiatives of each, please visit this report released by the Office of Minority Health.
The ACA was also a tool to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which is designed to assist tribal leadership in providing adequate health care services and targeting disparities in wellness for American Indians. Provisions in this act will also ensure modernization of techniques, approaches and facilities for American Natives.
In conclusion, the ACA aims to eliminate health care disparities and provide accessible care to all Americans. This will be accomplished through global initiatives of the act, such as promoting culturally competent care, diversifying the health care workforce, providing greater coordination of care, and ensuring access to care in underserved areas, as well as minority-specific initiatives, such as those listed above.