05/01/2015 03:25 pm ET Updated May 01, 2016

Why It Is Imperative to Address Latino Health Disparities

What is health inequity? What are the social determinants that generate it? What is being done to address it? On my latest online show, it became clear that it is impossible to talk about issues of health equity without discussing social justice. In fact, socioeconomic and cultural conditions --including physical environment, housing, transportation, education and working conditions -- are oftentimes the culprit when it comes to negative health outcomes for many ethnic communities, including Latinos.

"All of us in our communities know what it's like to have a someone who is very chronically ill, what it's like to lose a family member because of these disparities," said Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio, Director of Health Equity for Families USA. "It's not just numbers. It's actually lives and entire communities that are being undermined," she added.

These negative outcomes have serious implications for the nation's wellbeing. Reducing them requires taking a deeper look, since many factors "have policy implications on health that we don't normally think of," says Donna Barry, Director of the Women and Health Program at the Center for American Progress. Among the policy areas affected by these factors (and that CAP is working on), she cited:

  • Early childhood education programs, home visitation, and equal access to quality daycare
  • Public education, including quality, financing, curricula, and standards
  • Higher education, including access, student loan financing, and debt repayment
  • Workplace issues such as increasing the minimum wage, reducing pay gap, and paid leave
  • Housing and neighborhood issues, including their impact on asthma rates and other childhood health issues; exposure to violence; "walkable" cities and the ability to exercise
  • Improving the Affordable Care Act to ensure access and quality of coverage for everyone; expansion of Medicaid
In speaking about the Affordable Care Act, Jose Plaza, Director of Latino Engagement for Enroll America, explained that the impact of the law on these disparities goes beyond insurance coverage. "These issues are historic. They're pervasive in our communities. The ACA finally [covers] a gap for families that couldn't afford health coverage before, that couldn't have access to quality healthcare as well as culturally-competent care."

Making sure those gaps are properly addressed is an on-going process, requiring a conscious collaboration between the public, the industry and governmental agencies, as well as leveraging some of the ACA's key components. To this end, the Department of Health and Human Services has launched a strategic Disparities Action Plan to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. Tony Welch, Press Secretary for the Office of Minority Health, explained that the plan's goal is to make sure that they [HHS] "think of health equity first and foremost across all programs and policies."

At the same time, at the community level, organizations like Enroll America, Families USA, CAP, and many others across the country, focus their efforts on policy advocacy, education campaigns, capacity-building among communities and providers, and on-the-ground enrollment assistance.

As for us consumers, they insist that the most important thing is to become aware, engage with the organizations working on these issues, and share information with those who need it most. If you care about health equity and social justice, here are some great places to start:

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