Advancing Hispanic Health

This month, we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month: a salute to the richness and diversity of the Latino community, and a tribute to the contributions of Hispanic Americans---past, present, and future. The Obama Administration is committed to honoring this proud history, and working together with the Latino community to build a stronger future. A key part of that effort is promoting health and wellness.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the health care law signed by President Obama two years ago, we have a remarkable opportunity to target health disparities, and improve health outcomes for all Americans. Latinos face the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. They are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy; less likely to have access to quality health care when they get sick; and more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer. But because of the Affordable Care Act, by 2014 as many as 9 million Latinos will be eligible for coverage that they currently lack. An estimated 6.1 million Latinos who have private insurance now have access to free preventive services, including mammograms, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, and flu shots. And if you are one of the 3.9 million Latinos on Medicare, your preventive services are free and you may be eligible for discounts on your prescription drugs.

The health care law is also making community health centers stronger. Today, 35 percent of the patients served at community health centers are Latino. The investments in new health centers and support for existing sites have already helped our community health centers see an additional 3 million more patients.

And no matter where people get their health care, the health care law is improving the quality of that care. The law is helping to put more doctors and nurses in medically underserved communities, and it’s investing in innovations to improve care for chronic disease. It’s also helping us collect better, more specific data for different groups in the diverse Latino community---such as Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and Cuban Americans---so that we can better understand the challenges they face, such as the fact that Mexican Americans experience obesity at higher rates than other Hispanic populations, and Puerto Ricans are disproportionately affected by asthma.

All of these aspects of the law help ensure more Americans have access to the quality, affordable health insurance they need. And we know there is nothing more critical to reducing health disparities than access to insurance and quality care. That’s why the Affordable Care Act represents the most powerful legislation in decades for reducing health disparities in our country.

And the Obama Administration is building on that momentum. We announced our first-ever Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, which establishes strategic initiatives to improve minority health, such as support for Promotores de Salud, or community health workers. Last year, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) launched the Promotores de Salud Initiative to promote the engagement of community health workers in underserved Latino communities. We are also working to improve diversity and cultural competency in the health care workforce by sponsoring initiatives such as OMH’s Think Cultural Health, a continuing education program to help providers address the needs of diverse patient populations.

Under President Obama’s leadership, we are helping to ensure that all Americans, in all communities, have a chance to live a healthy life. And this year, as we commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, we can celebrate the progress that we have made, and shine a light on the opportunities that we have to build on.

Dr. J. Nadine Gracia. MD, MSCE is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for MInority Health (acting) at OMH.