Minority caucuses in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill on Wednesday that aims to improve health outcomes for communities of color.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), along with members of what’s known as the Tri-Caucus—made up of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus—introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2014 on July 30, the 49th anniversary of the enactment of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
HEAA has been introduced in six consecutive Congresses, and sponsors and advocates said that the bill has been used as a blueprint over the years for other policies that improve health equity, especially the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“This bill is the keystone of our national strategy for the elimination of health disparities,” Roybal-Allard said on a call with reporters.
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Those disparities in health outcomes are significant and devastating for minority communities, advocates said. Hilary O. Shelton of the NAACP explained on the call that African-American infants are
up to three times more likely to die in childbirth than other races and ethnicities, African-American men are twice as likely to die of prostate cancer, Hispanic women die of cervical cancer at 1.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic white women, and African-Americans and Native populations are twice as likely to contract diabetes.
“Like many Latinas across the country, I was thrilled when the Affordable Care Act became law because I knew it would provide access to quality and affordable health care for many in our community,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “But despite these enormous gains, Latinos continue to experience persistent barriers to affordable and quality health coverage, services, and information.”
HEAA has ten provisions to improve and guide federal efforts to improve health equity in language access; data collection and reporting; health-care outcomes for women, children, and families; and funding to specifically combat diseases with a high impact on communities of color such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and HIV and AIDS.
A working group for the HEAA convenes at the beginning of each new Congress, during which hundreds of minority and health advocacy organizations discuss the latest science to update the bill. A letter signed by 325 national and state organizations thanked Roybal-Allard and her Healthcare Task Force co-chairs for their work in introducing the bill.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said that in her district, life expectancy can vary by a full 14 years from neighborhood to neighborhood. “In the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, it’s unacceptable that where you were born determines how long you live,” Lee said.