The last few months have been a very exciting time in the fight for health equality. In March, after decade of efforts by dedicated advocates and policymakers, we saw comprehensive health care reform become a reality when President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While we are thrilled that the new law will do much to improve access to healthcare, we also know that access alone will not be enough to end racial and ethnic health disparities. At the same time that access to primary care and preventative services is being drastically expanded, the segregated system of outpatient specialty care in New York City’s academic medical centers persists.
To this day, when patients without insurance and those covered by Medicaid seek specialty care at New York City’s academic medical centers, they are sent to hospital clinics. Meanwhile, privately insured patients are sent to faculty practices where they find more experienced doctors, shorter wait times, more coordination of care and, greater access to their physicians outside of office hours. Because patients without insurance or on Medicaid are more likely to be racial and ethnic minorities, this system amounts to a form of segregation.
The Bronx Health REACH Coalition of more that 60 faith and community based organizations has been fighting to change this segregated system of specialty care for more than a decade. Two years ago we filed a formal complaint with New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, now Governor-elect Cuomo. When the Attorney General refused to act, we talked and educated elected officials about this issue. As a result, two legislators introduced legislation in both the Assembly and the Senate in Albany. However, with the state budget crisis consuming everyone’s attention and energy, the legislation was not passed. We are not disheartened. The Bronx Health REACH Coalition understands that we are in a fight to save lives and increase the quality of life for many. We believe, as Martin Luther King so eloquently put it in an address in 1967 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ‘…that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’ We have built a movement whose slogan is, Making Health Equality a Reality. We will not stop until that is so.
CHMP Senior Fellow Charmaine Ruddock, MS, is Project Director of Bronx Health REACH a coalition of 50 community and faith-based organizations, funded by the Centers for Disease Control’s REACH 2010 Initiative to address racial and ethnic health disparities. Bronx Health Reach works with the Institute for Family Health.