While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is being dismantled, individuals may wonder whether they will lose their health care coverage. Although the language of the new health care law has not been finalized, the bill could jeopardize an individual’s right to health equity; the opportunity to achieve one’s highest level of health.
When access to health care is denied, the right to a healthy life is threatened and one’s risk for becoming part of the morbidity and mortality statistics heightens. For example, Ms. Smith lived in an area where asthma rates were high. When she subsequently developed asthma, she required medication and follow-up care to control her condition. While her health care costs were covered by her insurance, she maintained a high level of wellness. However, when her job downsized and she found herself unemployed after two decades of service, she had to decide between paying her mortgage or keeping her health care insurance. Her decision to pay her mortgage came at the expense of her not being able to adequately manage her asthma. The stress of being unemployed undoubtedly contributed to an increase in her asthma exacerbations and emergency department visits. One night a severe attack killed Ms. Smith before she could make it to the hospital. What happens to individuals who, like Ms. Smith, do not have health care insurance?
Without adequate health care insurance, asthma could cost you your life. The Center for Disease reports that over 17 million individuals have asthma and each year 1.6 million emergency visits are made and more than 3,000 individuals die from asthma. Most of the time these deaths could have been prevented. It is no secret that in the United States, individuals with low income or who identify as African American, Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, or American Indian have been disparately impacted by health care policies. Indeed, lack of access to health care has been linked to poorer health care outcomes and shorter life-expectancy rates for the above groups.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman”. Next month is Minority Health Month. Agencies around the country will be discussing ways to promote health equity across communities and emphasizing the social, economic and environmental issues that influence health. Health equity requires access to education, better job opportunities, safer environments and affordable health care. Greater awareness of the injustices that jeopardize health care outcomes, increase disease rates, and reduce life expectancy for some groups is critical. It is time to tell the stories of individuals like Ms. Smith and change the racially driven stereotypes that have been used to falsely explain why certain groups have higher rates of disease and poorer outcomes. Tell your story and speak up for your right to a healthy life throughout Minority Health Month and beyond.