By Melanie Herrera-Bortz, Adelante con la Salud

There is clearly a relationship between health care access and health status in the US.  Working to achieve health equity among various racial and ethnic groups is a challenging problem in Colorado and nation wide. People of color represent about one-third of the nation’s population, but make up over half of the estimated 50 million Americans with no health insurance. Nationally, more than one in three Latinos and Native American and just under one in five African-Americans are uninsured. In comparison, only about one in eight Whites lack health insurance. In Colorado, there are approximately, 830,000 people who are uninsured and 26% or 275,495 of those are Latino.

This is a complex issue with many layers. Since so many people of color don’t have health insurance, they often can’t get the care they need. They are more likely to get their care in emergency department and less likely to seek out preventive care or have a usual source of care. In addition, people who don’t have insurance are six times less likely to get care for a health problem than the insured. According to the Centers for Disease Control, half of all Latinos and one-quarter of African-Americans do not have a regular doctor compared to only one-fifth of Whites.

One third of people who are uninsured have a chronic disease (Health Disparities closing the gap). Both Latinos and African Americans have higher rates of HIV/ AIDS, diabetes, and cancer compared to Whites, and are less likely to have access to live-saving preventive care measures like mammograms and other cancer screenings. According to a recent survey, 20% of Latinos and African Americans reported being in “fair” or “poor” health, as compared to only 13% of Whites.

How do we close the health outcome gap and improve health equity among people of color? Thanks to Obamacare, people of color have better access to preventive health care screenings (if we have health insurance) like well-child visits, blood pressure screenings, well-woman visits, cancer screenings, immunizations and mammograms without cost-sharing.

Many parts of Obamacare help to achieve health equity among people of color by investing in Community Transformation Grants. The grant goals are to improve health, reduce health disparities and lower health care costs. They also provide support to states and communities by promoting healthy lifestyles, like tobacco-free living, especially among groups with high rates of chronic disease.

In 2014 when the new healthcare law is completely rolled out, health insurance will be expanded to millions of people of color, including an estimated 5.4 million Latinos and 3.8 million African-Americans. Additionally, people with incomes of up to 400% FPL (about $92,200 for a family of 4) will be eligible for government subsidies to purchase private insurance on the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange- a competitive online marketplace where consumers can shop for and compare health plans.

Obamacare will also increase federal funding to nearly 1,000 community health centers across the country. This is important because they serve as a trusted and usual source of care within many communities of color. Currently, Colorado has 15 federally funded health care centers that serve about 160,000 patients, 60% of whom are people of color. Colorado has already received funding to help with construction and renovation.

The benefits of Obamacare will advance health equity in both health care and health outcomes through expanded insurance coverage and better access to high quality care services for people of color in Colorado. That means we’ll be one step closer to ensuring all Coloradans get the care they need. 

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