New U.S. Plan to Improve Health Care for Minorities

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April 12, 2011 — The U.S. government has introduced a new approach to fight barriers to good health care faced by many minorities.

Racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to suffer from serious illness, like diabetes and heart disease, and less likely to have access to quality health care than white Americans.

To reduce those health disparities, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released what it’s calling the most comprehensive action plan and strategy yet to expand health care access and improve minority health.

“While some have benefited from tremendous medical advances, the health and wellness of the entire nation will not improve until disparities and inequities have been eliminated,” said Howard Koh, MD, assistant secretary at HHS, in a conference call.

“Our goal as a nation is for each person to reach the highest attainable standard of health, which is currently out of reach for many,” says Koh.

Road Map for Reducing Health Disparities

The HHS action plan has five broad goals:

  • Transform health care by expanding health care coverage and increasing access to care.
  • Strengthen the health care workforce by recruiting more minorities for public health and medical careers, improving health care interpreting services, and supporting more training of community health workers such as promotoras (Spanish-speaking community health workers) to help people navigate the health care system.
  • Improve the health of minority communities through community transformation grants to target heart disease, childhood obesity, tobacco-related illnesses, maternal and child health, flu, and asthma.
  • Improve data collection and research involving racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Increase transparency and accountability of HHS programs with respect to reducing minority health disparities.

“For the first time, the United States has a coordinated road map designed to give everyone the chance to live a healthy life,” says HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a news release. “We all need to work together to combat this persistent problem so that we can build healthier communities and a stronger nation.”

In combination with the HHS action plan, the agency also unveiled a new National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity.

The strategy provides a common set of goals and objectives for public and private sector involvement in reducing racial and ethnic health disparities.

These goals include increasing awareness of the significance of health disparities and improving the cultural and linguistic competency and diversity of the health care work force. The HHS will also offer community organizers a toolkit to help them make use of provisions of the new plans.

Officials say funding for these plans is already provided in the HHS budget, largely through the Affordable Care Act.

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