health-poverty.jpgThousands of American gathered in Washington, D.C. this afternoon commemorate the 1963 March on Washington, the civil rights march that featured Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

It brings to mind one of King’s famous statements about America. In a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, King said:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”

What was true in 1966 America is true today: the health disparities between people of color and whites is shocking. People of color are less likely to have health insurance than the general population and life expectancy is almost four years less for African Americans than for the average white American.

The Affordable Care Act is a step forward in reducing these disparities by increasing the availability of health insurance coverage and by specifically tracking racial and ethnic health disparities in order to address the particular concerns of these communities moving forward.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation

Over half of the currently uninsured are people of color, most of whom are adults. The large majority of uninsured individuals have incomes in the range that would qualify for the ACA Medicaid expansion or premium tax credits for exchange coverage.

In order to make certain that these health disparities are actually addressed, data collection is in place through the law to track these disparities. According to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The ACA contains several provisions aimed at improving data collection and reporting procedures, explicitly to track and reduce health disparities. Perhaps most significantly, by March 2012, all federally-funded health programs and population surveys will be required to collect and report data on [race, ethnicity, and language preference] and other demographic characteristics using standards identified by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as most appropriate for reducing disparities.

These efforts will make large changes in how we are able to identify and change racial and ethic health disparities in America. Unfortunately, in states like North Carolina where elected officials have chosen to put politics ahead of good sense by opposing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and by allowing health insurance companies to set rates with no state oversight, the good that the ACA is doing will be thwarted in a major way.