Health Care Reform for Minorities

Amid skyrocketing gas and food prices, communities across the nation are also concerned with the rising costs fueled by health disparities, said the National Hispanic Medical Association in a policy briefing on July 15.

That is the issue top leaders discussed when the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) and The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) presented a policy briefing on "Health Care Reform and Health Disparities." The event was held on July 15, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. at The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 5th Ave. at 103rd St., Room 21, in Manhattan, New York.

"Despite all the worsening economic news we are hearing -- from the housing slump, to gas surpassing $4 a gallon, to food prices tripling, to unemployment surging to 5.5 percent last month -- there is some light. We do not have to face a darker economic outlook in health care if we properly address health disparities. That's a cost we can and should control," said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, President and CEO of NHMA, a nonprofit group based in Washington, DC, that represents Hispanic physicians in the U.S.

The policy briefing showcased national health care reform efforts, focusing on the health care platforms of the presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain and how to eliminate disparities and improve the health of Hispanic populations.

"Communities of color continue to face numerous barriers when trying to make healthy choices about their lifestyles and when seeking medical care. Serious attention to the action steps needed to remove these barriers are crucial to our country's health, and including attention to the health of these populations in the presidential candidates' platforms is a major step in the right direction," said Jo Ivey Boufford, M.D., President of The New York Academy of Medicine. "As we move forward toward national health reform, we must not leave behind our most vulnerable and underserved communities."

The speakers included Joseph R. Betancourt, M.D., M.P.H., Health Care Policy Advisor, Obama for America Campaign; U.S. Congressman Michael C. Burgess, MD, R.-Texas, John McCain 2008 Campaign; and Elizabeth Lee-Rey, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Family and Social Medicine, Co-Director, Hispanic Center of Excellence, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

Obesity, diabetes, stroke and cancer are among the conditions that plague Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans. As those groups grow -- minorities will make up nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population in the coming years -- so will the associated costs of health disparities.

According to the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, if the health disparities trend continues unchecked, the U.S. will face a resource-strained health care system where the majority of the population and the workforce are in poor health.

Health disparities are costly. Hispanics are twice more likely to die from heart disease than whites, and black women die of diabetes twice as often as white women.

"People have a responsibility for making healthy choices, but we as a nation have a responsibility to address the causes of disparities and make healthy choices available to all people, regardless of race, income or education," Rios said.

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