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 2003 to 2006, the cost of racial and ethnic health disparities and resulting premature deaths was $1.24 trillion nationally. Despite national and local efforts to address disparities, people of color continue to experience poorer health than their white counterparts, including higher rates of infant mortality, lower life expectancy and increased prevalence of chronic diseases. If nothing is done to address racial and ethnic health disparities, these problems are likely to worsen as the diversity of the population grows.

Reducing racial and ethnic health disparities includes providing quality and affordable health care to communities of color. According to a recent report, communities of color comprise “about one-third of the U.S. population and more than half of the people who are uninsured.” While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) promises sweeping changes to the health care system, health equity cannot be addressed through implementation of the law alone – changes must happen across society and should also include improvements to health. This means addressing the social determinants of health, such as employment, education, access to healthy foods, and safe neighborhoods.

Over the past five years Community Catalyst’s work to advance health equity has focused on helping the most vulnerable consumers, including people of color and those who face barriers to care because of their immigrant status or primary language. We have provided leadership and support to state and local consumer organizations, policymakers and foundations that are working to guarantee access to health care for everyone.

The best change occurs when the communities most affected are involved. Health equity will be achieved through full participation by communities of color and their engagement in the policy making process and implementation of the ACA. We strongly promote the participation of and partnership with communities of color to our partners. To better support state and local advocates, we are working to identify the best ways to engage communities of color in implementation of the ACA. In addition, we partner with foundations to provide financial support and technical assistance to state advocacy coalitions and encourage them to engage communities of color. This focus is reflected in grant requirements for two of our programs: Consumer Voices for Coverage, a joint initiative with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Affordable Care Act Implementation Fund.

Additionally health equity is incorporated into the goals for all of our programs:

  • • We have joined with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants program to provide funding to organizations working to address social or economic factors that impact the health of people in their community. For example, advocates in Missouri identified that one key factor in maintaining employment, and consequently good health, is access to transportation to and from work. Many communities of color rely on public transportation, but this need often goes unfulfilled. Missouri advocates are using their grant funds to expand public transportation to these underserved communities.
  • • Our Hospital Accountability Team is currently working to ensure federal rules require non-profit hospitals to engage community members and leaders directly, as they research and plan strategies to address a wide range of issues that impact community health—transportation, access to health care and healthy foods, for example—that often hit harder in communities of color.
  • • To assist advocates on the ground engaging in the development of their state health insurance Exchange under the ACA, our policy team recently developed six principles to help create Exchanges that are responsive to the needs of people of color and immigrants.
Health equity is an organizational priority for Community Catalyst, and, consequently, reflected in our advocacy work. However, we need to build a network of community-based groups, state and national advocacy organizations, foundations, and individuals to stand and work together to address health disparities effectively. Please get involved and invested in reducing health disparities by demanding that lawmakers fully implement the ACA, the Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity.

— Quynh Chi Nguyen, Program and Policy Associate & Aurelia Aceves, National Urban Fellow