Is Black Health in Distress?

Office of Minority Health

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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Leaders of the Black National Medical Association, the Latino National Hispanic Medical Association, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Physicians held a press conference May 5 in an attempt to rally support for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH). The event was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

Dr. Walter Faggett II, a leader in the National Medical Association, said reducing funds to the OMH could impair Black physicians and health professionals’ ability to deliver to Black communities. (Courtesy photo)

The press conference served as an detailed defense of the agency and why its funding should be continued at current levels. There is concern that office funds will be severely cut by President Donald’s Trump’s 2018 budget, expected to be submitted to Congress later this month. When the president released his “skinny” budget in late March, he called for a reduction in OMH by $11 million in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

“The Office of Minority Health works to see that minority patients are treated fairly and that information on good health gets to the minority communities,” Dr. Elena Rios, president of the NHMA told attendees. “Trump wants to get rid of the office and that’s not right. We as minority doctors see health care as a right for all; not just for those who can afford it.”

Leaders also discussed the recent vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act; also known as “Obamacare.”

In 1985, HHS released the “Secretary’s Task Force Report on Black and Minority Health;” a landmark report named after then Secretary Margaret Heckler. The Heckler Report documented the existence of health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States and called such disparities “an affront both to our ideals and to the ongoing genius of American medicine.”

As a result, the OMH was created in 1986 and reauthorized when the Affordable Care Act, became law in 2010. The mission of OMH is to improve the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will eliminate health disparities.”

Dr. Walter Faggett II, speaker of the NMA’s House of Delegates, criticized the cut. “To run and maintain the OMH, it takes $400 million,” Faggett said. “This will impair Black physicians and health professionals’ ability to deliver to African-American communities.”

David Lee Hawkes, who represented NCAPIP, said OMH publishes and promotes materials that non-English speakers can understand. And that a cut in OMH funding will affect that.

“Many Asian and Pacific Islanders don’t speak English as their primary language,” Hawkes said. “OMH has brochures and other publications that reach non-English speakers and if they aren’t available, there is a good chance that miscommunication can take place between them and health providers. And that can have a detrimental effect on those populations.”

Faggett, Rios and Hawkes agreed that access to good health care is a right and took issue with the vote by the House on May 4 to support the American Health Care Act, which functionally repeals Obamacare. Faggett didn’t mince words when it came to the House’s action. “This bill is unacceptable and will cause considerable harm to many people and make health care unattainable,” he said. “Seven million veterans may lose coverage and 24 million may lose their care all together. Older people will die sooner because of this bill and babies with congenital defects will die sooner also if this bill becomes law.”

Faggett is disturbed that many House members didn’t see the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the repeal bill. This report estimated that tens of millions could lose coverage. The Republican bill would give states more power in determining who could get coverage and at what cost. And could drive up costs for some Americans seeking care.

Rios said the AHCA could force people with lower incomes to go to emergency rooms to be treated and for some patients to “cut their pills in half,” to be able to take some medicine to keep from going without.

Faggett told the AFRO that the NMA is working with the National Urban League and the Congressional Black Caucus’ Health Care Braintrust, led by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), to see that the health care interests of Blacks are secure. “We are all committed to maintaining many aspects of Obamacare,” he said. “The Urban League has a comprehensive program of health education and healthy living for African Americans and we want to continue to see decreases in death rates for Blacks as well as decreasing costs for care.”

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