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Political Courage’ Needed for Health Care Reform

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The current system also fails to provide high-quality care for all, particularly for ethnic and racial minorities. In communities as diverse as the Asian, Hispanic, African diasporas and Native American communities, cultural and language barriers pose a challenge to providing high-quality care for all. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, for example, face daunting cultural and language barriers due to lack of multilingual health care services, limited prognosis and treatment due to poor data collection and unique health challenges such as Hepatitis B.

On language barriers, AAPI communities are significantly limited in their English proficiency, with 76 percent Hmong, 70 percent Cambodian, 68 percent Laotian, and 61 percent Vietnamese lost in translation. By misunderstanding health care providers and social service agencies, they face complicated diagnoses and prescription directions, which result in poorer health and even death.

On data collection, the need for improved practices is profound. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, has no information on AAPIs, citing only “Black, White, or Hispanic/Non-White.” Diabetes, meanwhile, is pervasive and increasing in Asian American communities.

On Hepatitis B, AAPI communities, African Americans and Native Americans suffer from higher rates of Hepatitis B than other ethnic groups. Asian Americans count for half of chronic Hepatitis B cases and half of deaths resulting from chronic Hepatitis B infection. Most infections remain undiagnosed until the late stages of the disease. This late diagnosis often results in liver transplants, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and frequently death.

There is no question that America’s health care system falls short for all, and in providing adequate care to ethnic minorities. Our recession exacerbates this trend as service providers cut costs and patients afford less. President Obama’s drive for health care reform is an excellent opportunity to end the persistent health disparities that leave millions in poorer health. The task is not small and demands strategies on all fronts, including a more diverse workforce, strengthened ethnic institutions, and improved evaluation and accountability measures. But we must do it quickly; the health of our nation and our economy depends on it. America deserves a health care system that enables everyone to live a healthier and happier life.

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