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Health equity bill offers blueprint for nation at time of attacks on coverage and public health

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Health care in America is a tale of two countries. For some families – especially White and wealthy Americans – the United States offers some of the best care in the world.

But for people of color who live on the margins, access to health care looks very different and the costs can be much more dire. Despite the gains we’ve made as a nation, race and ethnicity often determine whether our fellow Americans can find high-quality, reliable health care.

{mosads}Statistics bring to light the jarring gap in health outcomes based on race and ethnicity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that compared to Whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes; Hispanic women are 1.5 times as likely to die from diabetes; African American women are 40 percent more likely than White women to die from cancer; Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) men are twice as likely to die from stomach cancer compared to Whites; and AAPI women are 2.4 times as likely to die from stomach cancer as White women.

While health advocates have made great strides to address health disparities impacting our communities, considerable challenges continue to exist. Asian Americans are twice as likely to develop chronic hepatitis B, as compared to Whites, and 7.5 times more likely to die from the disease. In 2016, African Americans were still 8.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection compared to Whites. Moreover, 1 in 5 Asian Americans living with HIV do not even know they have it.

There are many reasons for these disparities. Higher uninsured rates, language and cultural barriers to care, social determinants, including elevated poverty rates, and greater exposure to pollution are just some of the factors that lock communities of color out of quality care.

We’ve known about these challenges for a long time. That’s why, during the drafting of the Affordable Care Act, we fought for community health clinic funding, culturally sensitive care, and Medicaid expansion – which have all helped communities of color. And, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we saw a record number of American families gain health coverage they could afford and rely on.

But we know that this does not go far enough. As our nation becomes increasingly more diverse, the health and well-being of communities of color lag behind. This glaring inequity takes a significant human and economic toll on our nation and our families. In fact, between 2003 to 2006, health disparities and premature death amongst racial and ethnic minorities cost our nation more than one trillion dollars.

This public health crisis will not go away on its own. It’s going to take a concerted effort from Congress to address these outrageous disparities and ensure every American, of every race, ethnicity, and background, can stay healthy.

So that’s what we want to do. This week, we joined leaders of the Congressional Tri-Caucus – comprised of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus – to introduce the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2018 (HEAA). Our health equity bill builds on 10 years of congressional action to combat health disparities, and it leverages the expertise and research of a 300-plus member community working group and endorsing organizations, led this year by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

HEAA affirms our promise to America of not just lessening—but eliminating –health disparities. This legislation is a roadmap to health equity, so that everyone in our country can thrive.

In order to address the multiple factors that impact our health, HEAA reaches into all pockets of the community by proposing programs to make sure our health care workforce reflects the diverse communities it serves. It ensures that real and significant investments are made to combat conditions, like HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis, that take an untold burden on communities of color. The bill would ensure that all Americans, regardless of immigration status, can feel safe seeing a doctor and knowing they have reliable coverage for their family. It would also make the necessary investments in sexual and reproductive health care for all.

This is the future of health equity.

HEAA envisions a country where all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or background, has the security of quality health care. A nation where each one of our neighbors can visit the doctor and know they’re being heard, respected, and cared for. But to get there, we need Congress to finally recognize that we all have a role to play in solving this public health crisis.

Rep. Barbara Lee is chair of the Healthcare Task Force, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and Rep. Judy Chu is Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

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