Community Catalyst is proudly taking part in the Health Equity Can’t Wait! blog carnival celebrating National Minority Health Month. Participating bloggers are health, consumer, civil rights, and provider advocates committed to promoting health equity. You can find all the posts for the carnival here.

From your organization’s perspective, is health care a civil/human right?

As a visiting fellow at Community Catalyst for the past eight months, I must have learned in my first week that the organization views access to quality, affordable health care as a human right. In fact, it was a consistent and underlying theme in the organization-wide meetings I attended and the interviews I had with staff to discuss their work in specific issue areas.

I did not come to Community Catalyst with an understanding of the complex health policy environment challenging our health care system. My background knowledge was rooted in my own experience with health insurance coverage and visits to the doctor—both things I never questioned or had to worry about as a child or young adult. I took my experience for granted at the time and was unable to fully contextualize it until my fellowship here opened my eyes to the inequities in the health care system and the direct impact on people’s lives. Before I came here I did not realize that I belong to the ethnic group, Latino, most likely to have uninsured children and adults (in addition to a considerable number of underinsured individuals, too).

Spend just one day at Community Catalyst and you will see that its work aims to alleviate the roadblocks and inequities many people face – such as those in the Latino community – to acquire and maintain quality and affordable health care. Access to quality, affordable health care is a human right, because every human being deserves to be in charge of their own well-being. My well-being should not depend on the guiding hand of the free market, but should be based on the decisions I make to protect and maintain my health. By granting people access to quality, affordable health care, we empower them to be advocates for their own health.

Community Catalyst believes that people have the right to a healthy life no matter their income level, race, ethnicity, age, primary language, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, or geography. A family should not spiral into debt to pay for a family member’s life-saving medical procedure or medication. The same-sex partner of an employed person should not be excluded from receiving family health care coverage based on sexual orientation. Children should not have to forgo necessary medical attention because their parents cannot afford it. My grandparents, whose primary language is not English, should not receive lower quality care because a hospital does not make it a priority to hire diverse staff members including people who speak languages other than English.

These unfortunate circumstances that occur all too often contribute to health disparities that cost this nation $1.24 trillion between 2003 and 2006 according to a recent report. The cost includes, but is not limited to, unnecessary medical care expenditures like preventable hospitalizations and forgone wages and productivity associated with premature deaths.

There is no doubt that the Affordable Care Act provides unprecedented opportunities to address health disparities in this country, and people have already begun to benefit from the law. Community Catalyst has created a video to illustrate this point. Though staff at Community Catalyst believe access to quality, affordable health care is a basic human right, they understand improving access to health care is only a component of addressing health disparities. Community Catalyst’s joint initiative with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Community Grants is a great example of the organization’s systems approach to address health disparities. The initiative provides funding to organizations from coalitions and/or networks that work to alleviate the social and economic factors that influence poor health in their communities.

Health care is not the sole determinant of a person’s or community’s health, so change must occur throughout society in terms of increasing access to healthy foods, closing racial and ethnic gaps in employment rates and educational attainment, and establishing safe neighborhood initiatives. This work is a joint effort requiring investment across all sectors and communities so that the benefits can span just as wide. The Affordable Care Act’s small business tax credit provision is a great example of how the law incentivizes cross-sector efforts to ensure access to quality, affordable health care for everyone. This law is a major achievement for human rights.

— Aurelia Aceves, National Urban Fellow