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How the ACA is Helping to Address Health Disparities
This National Minority Health Month coincides with the end of the 2014 open enrollment period for the health care marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. While there's been much in the news about the law, I wanted to take a look at one aspect you may not have heard a lot about: how critical provisions are helping to reduce health disparities to enable all Americans to get the care they need. What do I mean by health disparities? Cancer health disparities are differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality and burden of cancer that exist among specific populations in the U.S. These could include gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, income, social class, disability, geographic location or sexual orientation. To illustrate an existing health disparity, African Americans are more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. Cancer disparities among racial and ethnic minorities largely reflect the barriers these populations face as they attempt to access timely cancer prevention and early detection screenings and quality diagnostic and treatment services, often due to poverty. And while progress has been reported, more work remains to reduce the cancer burden among minorities. That's why ACS CAN is working to improve access to health care for all people with cancer by making sure that key ACA provisions that benefit cancer patients and survivors are fully implemented, accessible and adequately funded. Specific provisions of the law are helping address disparities by:
- Providing funding to state and local communities through the Prevention and Public Health Fund to support disease prevention programs such as breast screenings, obesity prevention and tobacco cessation programs
- Providing funding to expand community health centers, which provide primary health care services to medically underserved communities and populations most likely to be exposed to health inequities and disparities
- Improving the way information on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status is collected and used, which is needed to fully assess the extent of cancer disparities and to identify the best ways to reduce them
- Prioritizing health disparities at the National Institutes of Health
- Establishing a network of offices of minority health within Department of Health and Human Services
Although the law will help millions of uninsured people to get health coverage and benefit from these critical provisions, there will still be millions of people nationwide who continue to go without lifesaving care. ACS CAN is strongly urging all states to accept available federal dollars to cover more uninsured people through Medicaid. ACS CAN also continues to urge Congress to invest in the CDC's lifesaving cancer prevention and early detection programs, including the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which helps the most vulnerable Americans get the cancer screenings they need. Together with the American Cancer Society, ACS CAN is dedicated to eliminating health disparities and achieving health equity so we can defeat cancer and save more lives.