DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE VERSION: Racial and Ethnic Disparities
In recent years, evidence has shown a relationship between race/ethnicity and health disparities among the U.S. population. If racial and ethnic disparities in health are not addressed, demographic changes over the next decade will amplify the importance of this issue. As racial and ethnic minority populations grow, so will the poorer health status of our communities.
Racial and ethnic minorities suffer from shorter overall life expectancy, higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, infant mortality, asthma, diabetes, stroke, and sexually transmitted diseases, among others. The factors contributing to these health disparities include reduced health care access, increased risk of disease due to work environment or housing conditions, and increased illness due to underlying cultural, socioeconomic, and medical factors.
Massachusetts' minority and immigrant communities are not immune to this significant health phenomenon. Our minority residents represent a diversity of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, including Dominican, African-American, Vietnamese, Somalian, and Cape Verdean, unique to Massachusetts. However, they face similar barriers to health care access and utilization as minority and immigrant communities throughout the nation.
Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health will require committed efforts in disease prevention, health promotion, and health care delivery in minority and immigrant communities. The Health Now! bill will begin to address the wide disparities in quality health among racial and ethnic minorities in Massachusetts.
The Health Now! bill will contribute to reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health by:
EXPANDING HEALTH CARE ACCESS.
The Health Now! bill authorizes several expansions to the MassHealth insurance program and establishes an Adult Medical Security Program, both of which will target low wage workers, who are disproportionately people of color. Lower-income and minority groups are two to three times more likely to be uninsured.
The groups made newly eligible for health care coverage:
Parents of children currently eligible for benefits: Although our child uninsurance rate is among the lowest nationally, many parents of covered children do not meet eligibility requirements. Research has shown that children are healthier when parents are covered under similar plans. The bill allows parents in families up to 200% poverty level to enroll in MassHealth with their children ($29,260 for a family of three).
Low income workers without children: The bill allows people up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($11,425 for an individual) to enroll in MassHealth.
Adults ineligible for MassHealth due to citizenship status or income level: The Adult Medical Security Program (AMSP) provides basic primary and preventive coverage for adults up to 300% of the federal poverty level ($43,890 for a family of three). Hospitalization would be covered by the Free Care Pool.
STRENGTHENING THE COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKER OUTREACH PROGRAM.
Even with an insurance card, minorities and immigrants are less likely to utilize services due to factors such as lack of trust, language access and immigration status concerns, which can lead to missed diagnoses, untreated conditions, poor health, and death.
The Health Now! bill will support an expanded role for community health workers, particularly in low income, minority, and immigrant communities where the rate of uninsurance is highest and where people rely most heavily on emergency care. Community health workers provide community-based health education, disease screening and preventive services. They provide invaluable outreach and cultural linkages between their communities and health care providers. Community health workers are critical in minority and immigrant communities where health care facilities and personnel may be limited or where they have not had strong links with the community.
REDUCING TOBACCO USE AND TOBACCO-RELATED ILLNESSES.
The tobacco industry targets minority groups with advertising campaigns to promote tobacco use. As a result, minority groups have significantly higher smoking rates than many other groups and suffer disproportionately from smoking related illnesses.
A large tobacco tax increase will result in decreased tobacco consumption among minority groups. However, for those who are addicted and need more help, the Health Now! initiative ensures that tobacco treatment programs and information are provided by Massachusetts' public health programs, including Medicare, MassHealth, and the Children's and Adult Medical Security Plans.