If there was ever a time to recognize the necessity of expanding access to meaningful health coverage, it’s now.
Closing the Chronic Disease Gap in Minority Populations
Earlier this month, as part of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, ACS CAN co-hosted an important briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of research and prevention in eliminating inequities among minority populations in prevalence rates of and access to health care for chronic diseases. Members of Congress, congressional staff, public health advocates and other health care experts were in attendance to discuss the scientific evidence and factors contributing to the disproportionate impact of chronic disease on minority populations, and the cost of doing nothing to address it. While we're making progress in the fight against cancer, many racial and ethnic minority groups continue to experience higher cancer prevalence and mortality rates than whites. In fact, 60,000 cancer deaths could be prevented each year if we closed the disparities gap. There are many reasons for the difference in cancer rates among minority groups, including low recruitment rates for clinical trials, poverty, inadequate treatment facilities and limited access to health insurance. Scientific research is one important tactic being used to address health disparities. Dr. Lawrence Tabak, deputy director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spoke at the briefing about how research at NIH is contributing to our understanding of disparities, finding approaches to handle these inequalities and raising awareness of the issue.
We can also make progress in reducing inequalities through policy action. At the briefing, Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) declared her support for legislation that would address disparities in chronic diseases. If passed, the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2011 would provide federal support to eradicate disparities in health status at all levels of the health care system. For example, the bill would increase resources for data collection, support diversity in the health workforce and focus on prevention efforts at the community level.
Addressing disparities in chronic illnesses will not only improve the health of all Americans, but help curb the rising cost of health care. In a 2009 report, the overall costs of health disparities over a three-year period were estimated to be $1.24 trillion. The evidence is clear that investing in prevention measures to address the causes of differences in cancer rates listed earlier can help save lives. And yet, less than 5 percent of total annual health care cost is spent on disease prevention. This is a gap that we cannot afford to ignore.