WASHINGTON, D.C. – Comprehensive health care reform can significantly reduce disparities in health coverage among African-Americans, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a roundtable discussion with the Black press ahead of a key vote on March 21.

Sebulius said diversifying the workforce of insurance providers and reducing health disparities will help cut down on the number of people barred from the health insurance system. 

“We know that communities of color, which include African Americans and Latinos right now have a much higher ratio of pre-existing conditions for a variety of reasons,” she said, “but that’s a current health status which leads them most likely to be locked out of the health care coverage market due to pre-existing conditions and the inability to afford high premiums.”

Sebelius’ comments came ahead of an expected historic March 21vote on a $940 billion health care bill, pushed by Democrats and balked at by Republicans. The bill includes approximately $11 billion for community health centers in underserved areas.

Currently, between 30 million and 35 million individuals nationwide, most of them minorities, are without health insurance and as many as 15,000 people are losing their benefits each day. 

Under a 10-year plan, those individuals would receive coverage through a combination of tax credits for middle class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for those in low income brackets.

According to the Associated Press, the plan would restructure one-sixth of the U.S. economy in the largest effort to provide health insurance since Medicare was created almost 50 years ago. The bill would also impose new obligations on individuals and businesses, requiring for the first time that most Americans carry health insurance.

Sebelius said passage of the bill would finally provide a payment system under which Americans would have access to preventive care and earlier interventions of health problems. The system would also serve as the footprint for everything from community health centers to the increased deployment of minority doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners and mental health technicians in underserved communities.

“That in and of itself gives us not only a more culturally competent footprint but a much better opportunity to staff some of the underserved areas,” Sebelius said, adding that, “workforce studies have found  that  a lot of times recruitment out of minority communities of doctors and nurses and other health care providers greatly enhances service in minority communities.”