As I reflect on the second anniversary of the groundbreaking health reform law—the Affordable Care Act—and the impact of this law and its provisions on Latinos and indeed all Americans, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that my son will grow up in a world where our communities are healthier, our families get the care they need, and no one has to choose between paying for needed medication or a doctor’s visit, or paying to keep food on the table.
We’re not there yet. Today, people of color account for one third of the population but make up one half of the uninsured. Latinos go uninsured at rates higher than any other racial or ethnic group. This lack of access to basic care leaves our communities unfairly saddled with much higher rates of chronic and preventable diseases than their fellow Americans.
Women of color face a double challenge, since we also encounter the discrimination that for years has led to disproportionately high insurance premiums for women. Conditions like pregnancy and even rape being categorized as pre-existing conditions, and arbitrary insurance company rules that have denied women affordable care and coverage.
Women are the backbone of our communities, and our health affects our children, our ability to provide for and care for our parents and partners, and our ability to fulfill our dreams. Fortunately for all women, there is finally hope for real progress in sight. Significant progress has been made under the Affordable Care Act in closing the health equity gap, and shows no signs of stopping.
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The new law includes significant protections and benefits for women, guaranteeing that employers and insurance companies provide birth control without expensive co-pays. Latinas are more likely than any other group to forgo taking prescription birth control because they can’t afford co-pays; this coverage therefore ensures that young Latina women can control the timing and spacing of their pregnancies and can plan their families. The ACA also includes access to other preventive care and stops private insurers from discriminating against all children with pre-existing conditions.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is proud to join over 180 other national, state, and local groups in applauding the Administration’s efforts and declaring our support for the ACA’s health equity provisions and urging their full funding and timely implementation.
Many of the law’s provisions are already benefitting our communities. Since the law was passed, 1.3 million young adults of color have gained health insurance, and 736,000 of those are Latinos. In addition, to date, $103 million in community transformation grants have been awarded to 61 municipalities to fight chronic disease on the community level. This money goes to communities committed to improving infrastructure to encourage exercise, making school lunches more nutritious, educating citizens on risk factors for chronic diseases or chronic disease management, and focusing on those with limited access to care. Coupled with the mandate that Medicaid and many private insurance companies must offer checkups and other preventive care for free, more people will have a chance to identify risk factors for disease and start getting healthier. These provisions give our communities the resources and power to take better care of ourselves, and each other.
Further, the ACA will support 16,000 new community health centers all across the country, on top of the 1,200 that already exist and provide care to 20 million people. Community health centers are especially critical for Latinos, since they provide culturally competent care, including in Spanish, to those that may have no other access to a provider—regardless of residency status. These centers serve as a primary care facility for one in four low-income people of color. This means that patients won’t have to miss work or take costly trips to get the care they and their families need. Community health centers accept government and most private insurance, and charge patients on a sliding scale depending on how much they are able to pay; they do not turn anyone away based on their income or insurance status.
Medicaid, the most important health care program for low-income children and especially Latino children, will also expand to cover many more families by 2013. Low-income Latina mothers, who disproportionately work in jobs that offer no or inadequate health insurance, will be able to obtain coverage for themselves and their families either through Medicaid or through state marketplaces where private insurance will be available and subsidies will be provided to insure affordability.
It can be hard enough to communicate with a health provider if you do speak the same language, and getting proper care is impossible if you cannot effectively communicate. This is a pressing challenge for many Latinos and immigrant communities and has real impacts on health. The Affordable Care Act includes new initiatives to increase cultural and language competency among health care professionals, and incentives and loan repayment plans will help bring more native speakers and underrepresented groups into health care fields. This means that more doctors and nurses will be able to speak the languages of their patients, and understand the specific health needs of their patients’ communities.
And finally, something to look forward to: in 2014 the government will begin giving small businesses tax credits to insure their employees. As the fastest growing group of small business owners, Latinos will benefit enormously. Insurance exchanges will be created to provide a simpler and more affordable way for everyone to find health insurance. Those who are currently baffled by the complicated, decentralized, and prohibitively costly process of finding health coverage will be able to easily compare benefits and prices in one market place and get a tax credit to offset costs to boot.
The Affordable Care Act is the most ground-breaking piece of legislation passed in our lifetimes to address health disparities. This law will grant access to quality health care to an estimated 32 million people who otherwise would not have been able to afford it. These are our sisters, our mothers, our primos, and our neighbors, people we care about who will no longer have to worry about being bankrupted by a catastrophic health event or suffer through a chronic illness with little or no treatment.
Like many parents, I have high hopes for my son, for the great things he will do for himself and for his community. Thanks in large part to these groundbreaking health care reforms, I also have high hopes that the world he grows up in with be a fairer, more just, and more equitable place, a place where lack of access to health care doesn’t stop anyone from pursuing their dreams.