Though we’ve made major strides in health care equity among minorities, we still have a long way to go, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement recently.
April is National Minority Health Month, what the HHS dubs a “time to raise awareness about health disparities that persist among racial and ethnic minorities.” This year, the theme is “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.”
In a statement, Sebelius said that this month aims to shed light on the government’s goal to develop into “a nation free of disparities in health and health care.”
Minorities in the U.S. are more likely than non-Hispanic white people to develop preventable chronic diseases: African Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to have diabetes than whites. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, meanwhile, are three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
Prevention is key in reducing health disparities, the HHS argues. But first it’s important to see exactly what some of these disparities look like. Disparities exist when there are different health outcomes in different groups or populations. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “the social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities — the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.” These “social determinants” of health include race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, as well as age.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been examining this issue in its annual “Health Disparities and Inequalities Report.” In 2013, the CDC report lists social and economic factors like education and income, access to healthy food retail, unemployment, and of course, health care access, as the main determinants of health inequalities.
Sebelius touts Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, as a major step forward in closing these health gaps between different minority groups in the U.S. Some seven million African Americans, four million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and eight million Latinos will now have access to more preventive services.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act,” Seblius writes, “health coverage is now more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans, including minority groups. For minority populations, the law addresses inequities in access to quality and affordable coverage.”
Preventive health care, like its name suggests, focuses on preventing diseases before they happen. Currently, much of the health care system relies on treating chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and health disease, after they've been diagnosed and progressed far enough to cause serious damage. Preventive health care focuses on lifestyle changes that could curb the high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the states. Preventive services provided by the ACA include flu shots for children and adults, well-child visits, Pap smears and mammograms for women, as well as colon cancer screenings.