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ACA: Basics

12 Days of “Gifts” from the Affordable Care Act – Gift Nine: Understanding and Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care

In the spirit of this holiday season, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health invites you to share in a series of blog posts, each containing a special “gift” from health care reform. Some have already been implemented and some are gifts still to come; but all are very important improvements to our healthcare system.

“Gift” Nine: Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care

Gift nine comes to us with high hopes for reducing health care disparities amongst women of color. Effective March 2012, the health care law requires any ongoing or new federal health program to collect and report racial, ethnic and language data. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) will then use the data to help identify and reduce disparities in health care.

This is especially important for women of color who, on average, have a life expectancy 5 years shorter than non-Hispanic white women. Research shows that many racial and ethnic minorities also are behind non-Hispanic white individuals on many health outcome measures – making “gift” nine a much needed provision of the law.

Racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have access to preventative care and have higher incidences of chronic illness – such as diabetes and heart disease. One reason for the decreased access to care is due to  the high prevalence of uninsured people of color. Minorities make up on third of the country’s total population but make up half of the uninsured. For women of color, not only does this increase the amount of chronic disease and lack of preventative care, but also decreases the amount of prenatal care they receive, and decreases the chances of having healthy birth outcomes. For this reason, Milwaukee has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

Also under this provision, expanded terms for collecting minority data will also obtain, an often overlooked component. For example, one study showed that the diabetes-related mortality rate for Mexican Americans (251 per 100,000) and Puerto Ricans (204 deaths per 100,000) was twice as high as the diabetes-related mortality rate for Cuban Americans (101 deaths per 100,000). This information would have remained unknown if only the umbrella terms of “Hispanic” or “Latino” had been used.

Expanding access to health care, expanding amount the data collected and using more specific information about minority populations is just one of the steps to take us closer to closing the racial and ethnic disparities in our health care system –another gift from health care reform.

Be sure to check out our post tomorrow, where Exchanges and tax credits will be discussed in our “gift” ten post.

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