The U.S. Senate took another step toward closing the racial and ethnic health gap with the May 18 passage of a bipartisan resolution intended to draw attention to the problem.

In a statement, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the measure’s sponsor, praised the Senate for its action, which he said will bring awareness to health disparities among African Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Asians, Hispanics, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders. It was passed without opposition and indicates the sense of the Senate on the issue.

“Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health confirms that African-American children have a 60 percent higher prevalence of asthma than white children, Native Americans and Alaska Natives are 2.3 times as likely to have diabetes as whites, and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women have three times the incidence of liver and IBD cancer as whites,” Cardin stated in a press release.

Cardin added that a lack of health insurance coverage was the primary explanation for health differences among the various races.

“Minorities constitute one-third of America’s population, but half of the uninsured,” Cardin explained in the press release. “But even when you factor in insurance coverage and income, studies have shown that minority patients receive lower quality health care.”

Cardin also noted that on April 8 he joined U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and other health officials with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to present two plans: the “HHS Action Plan to Reduce Health Disparities,” and the “National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity.”

According to a HHS press release, the department’s plan calls for more opportunities to increase the number of medical students in minority communities, an expansion of health care insurance and the training of health professionals people in medical interpretation for those who speak limited English.

In 2010, HHS awarded $16.2 million in grants to help eliminate health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities, according to the Office of Minority Health.

“Recipients include states, territories, national and community organizations, organizations serving tribes, and post-secondary educational institutions,” the press release stated.