The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or the health reform law, seeks to address a number of interrelated problems that perpetuate health disparities faced by people of color and other underserved communities: lack of diversity in the health care workforce, inadequate number of health professionals working in underserved communities like communities of color and rural areas, and lack of access to culturally and linguistically competent care.
Let’s break this down:
Problem #1: While Latin@s make up 16.3% of the US population and are a “majority” in states and communities across this country, they represent only represent only 7.6% of the medical school population, 3.2% of the registered nurse population and 4% of physicians.
Problem #2: We are facing shortages of primary care physicians, public health professionals, and other health care workers working in underserved areas. The lack of preventive health care services contributes to higher rates of chronic diseases in these communities.
Problem #3: Those who do have access to health providers often face gaps in their care because of cultural and linguistic barriers.
What does the ACA do to address these problems?
Health reform creates and revitalizes a number of programs aimed at enhancing the health care workforce in order to better serve our communities, in particular communities of color and those who live in areas that lack adequate providers. Below is a partial listing of these programs:
- The Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment program provides up to $35,000 in loan repayment to health professionals who agree to work for at least three years at a state, federal, local, or tribal public health agency.
- The National Health Service Corps provides scholarships and loan repayment programs to primary, dental, mental, and behavioral health providers who practice in medically underserved areas.
- The ACA reauthorizes the Title VII Health Professions Program, which supports the training and diversity of health providers.
- The health care law also authorizes the Cultural Competency, Prevention and Public Health and Individuals with Disability Training to develop curriculum to help health care workers understand the health needs of our diverse population.
- Grants will support the work of community health workers (such as promotoras – we will write more about promotoras in 20 Days of ACA) to promote wellness and health in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways.
- The Prevention and Public Health Fund creates investment in the prevention of illness and disease and supports public health programs.
It goes without saying that these programs provide tremendous benefits to our communities and, in particular, the reproductive health of Latinas. We know that Latinas, particularly those living in the rural west, often have to travel long distances for their pre- and post-natal care, due to lack of adequate health care nearby. We also know that Latinas suffer from conditions like cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups. By strengthening the health care workforce, expanding care in underserved areas, and increasing culturally and linguistically competent care, the ACA will go a long way toward advancing health equity. Moving forward, full implementation and funding will ensure that these programs live up to their potential, and NLIRH will be keeping a close watch to make sure that happens.
Join us later today for more on the ACA 2nd Anniversary and again next Monday for in 20 Days of ACA.