04/12/2012 10:54 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2012

Health Equity Can't Wait

April is National Minority Health Month, a time to raise awareness about the well-documented health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities, as well as highlight how the Affordable Care Act is reducing those disparities.

Despite the progress that we as a nation have made over the past 50 years, racial and ethnic minorities still lag behind their non-Hispanic white counterparts on many health fronts: Minorities are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy, more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, colon cancer, asthma, and heart disease, and they are less likely to have access to affordable, quality health care.

The Affordable Care Act, along with the Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity that HHS released one year ago, are helping fight these disparities.

Lack of insurance is a significant driver of health care disparities. More than 1.2 million Latinos, Blacks, Asian Americans and American Indian/Alaska Natives have gained coverage because the new health care law allows millions of young adults to stay on their parents' plans until age 26.

In 2014, new Affordable Insurance Exchanges will make it possible for families, individuals, and small business owners to shop for private health insurance in a new competitive marketplace in their state. And new data suggest that 5.4 million Latinos and 3.8 million African Americans who would otherwise be uninsured will gain coverage by 2016. The health care law also strengthens Medicare for our seniors with many free preventive services, including a free annual wellness visit with their doctor, a 50 percent discount on brand name medications for those in the prescription drug "donut hole," and strong anti-fraud measures. These provisions help ensure our seniors get the care and medicines they need.

We are also focused on preventing diseases before they start. The new health law requires most health insurance plans to cover prevention and wellness benefits with no cost-sharing. These services include well-child visits, blood pressure screenings, pap smears and mammograms for women and flu shots for both children and adults.

Pap smears, for example, are particularly important for Latina women, who contract cervical cancer at twice the rate of their non-Hispanic White counterparts, and mammograms are particularly important for African American women, who are less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer but are more likely to die from it. In both cases, preventive care can stop these diseases before they become life-threatening.

Finally, we are working to expand access to care in communities nationwide. In addition to supporting community health centers nationwide, under the Action Plan's goal to reduce disparities in access to primary care services, we awarded $28.8 million last August to 67 community health centers, which serve uninsured and underinsured people, to expand and establish new sites, to care for 286,000 additional patients.

To learn more about National Minority Health Month and what the Department of Health and Human Services is doing to reduce minority health disparities and achieve health equity, see

To learn more about the law, go to

For more by Sec. Kathleen Sebelius, click here.

For more on health care, click here.