Bill Daley is the Federal Issues Policy Director at The Alliance for a Just Society.
May was Minority Health Month and a couple of things happened that deserve a bit of attention. And it’s also important to note that not enough happened and more attention is needed.
First the good news. Comprehensive legislation aimed at attacking health disparities has now been introduced in both Houses of the Congress. Senators Akaka and Inouye introduced S 2474, a comprehensive program to attack health disparities that parallels a similar bill introduced earlier in the House by Tri-Caucus members. Here are the major provisions:
- Address issues in comprehensive data reporting that lead to a lack of information about the health status of minority groups;
- Provide culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare, including the training of a diverse health workforce to effectively serve minority populations;
- Remove barriers to care in rural communities through the development of health empowerment zones and the expansion of coverage to previously marginalized groups;
- Provide educational and preventive services to decrease teenage pregnancies and support the health of women and children;
- Increase the availability of appropriate mental health services;
- Focus research on diseases that disproportionately affect minority groups;
- Establish the role of health information technology in reducing health disparities;
- Call for accountability and transparency from federal agencies in addressing issues of minority health; and
- Address social determinates and improve environmental issues that lead to poor health outcomes for minority individuals.
Now the bad news: they cannot pass it. Instead of moving forward with a comprehensive program to overcome the scandalous and persistent problem of inferior health outcomes associated with race and ethnicity, we are getting from the House of Representatives the usual gaggle of ideas that will make things worse.
Here’s this week’s favorite: Let’s require immigrant victims of domestic violence to inform the abuser when they seek protection. This will endanger the victims and trap them in abusive situations but that’s the plan in HR 4970 which will be voted on next week in the House Judiciary Committee.
But there is much, much more:
- Cut food stamps by $33 billion.
- Require Social Security Numbers from tax paying immigrant families if they are to qualify for the Child Tax Credit.
- Repeal the Community Services Block Grant.
- Repeal the Affordable Care Act.
- Severely cut Medicaid for U.S. Territories.
- Remove requirements for States to maintain effort under the Medicaid Program.
- Repeal the Prevention Fund under the ACA which is the major source of funding for disparities programs in the Act
The next bit of bad news is that, as states begin to implement the new health exchanges, there seems to be very little attention being paid to health disparities. The ACA gives clear tools to states to begin attacking this national storage but few seem intent on using those tools. Anyone interested in looking at a “tool kit” on how to do this can contact me via the Alliance web site (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will send you one.