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Marking Two Years of the Affordable Care Act and its Impact on the AAPI Community

Dr. Howard Koh discusses the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, from expanding access to free preventive services to improving data-gathering standards.

Two years ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act  into law. The Affordable Care Act provides hard working, middle-class families the security they deserve.  The new health care law forces insurance companies to play by the rules, prohibiting them from dropping your coverage if you get sick or lose your job, billing you into bankruptcy through annual or lifetime limits, and, soon, discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition.

Already, the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to free preventive services, including mammograms and other cancer screenings, to 2.7 million Asian Americans in 2011, and requires insurers to cover preventive care for children so families do not have to pay for services such as flu shots and well-child visits. And, to date, more than half a million Asian Americans with Medicare have received one or more free preventive services.

The law also gives young adults up to age 26 the opportunity to stay on their parent's insurance plan. Over 2.5 million young adults have gained coverage thanks to this provision, including 97,000 Asian Americans.

And the law bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime dollar limits on health benefits, freeing cancer patients and individuals suffering from other chronic diseases from having to worry about going without treatment because of their lifetime limits. Currently, nearly 5.5 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage thanks to the law.

We are also building on the Affordable Care Act to tackle the unique health care and human services disparities affecting our Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities. As a critical part of that commitment, we are addressing special challenges for our populations, including hepatitis B-related disease, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and infant mortality.

A groundbreaking development occurred in October 2011 when HHS released its final standards for collecting and reporting data on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status in population health surveys.  The new standards, required by the health law, will help improve our ability to identify disparities in health status and target interventions to reduce these disparities particularly among Asian, Hispanic/Latino and Pacific Islander populations. For the first time, when national health surveys ask, “What is your race?” our community will have more subcategories from which to choose, especially when identifying yourself as “Asian” and “Pacific Islander.” These improvements in data collection will be invaluable as we study health related issues important to the AANHPI community. 

As a researcher who has tracked the availability of AANHPI-relevant health data throughout my career, I welcome these developments.  We will now have specific data that reflects the specific needs of our communities. That means we will have information not just on "Asian American" but more specifically on "Korean American", "Chinese American" and "Japanese American", for example.  Members of our AANHPI community will be recognized and counted.

The Affordable Care Act is also improving care and ease of access for AANHPI communities in other ways. The new health care law requires insurers to use plain language in describing health plan benefits and coverage. This means that information about your health insurance will be written in a way that is easier to understand.

As we mark the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, these investments are an example of the Administration’s continued commitment to the future of the AANHPI community. We are making critical progress toward achieving our collective goal of reducing, and eventually eliminating, health care disparities, and improving the health and well being of the AANHPI community, and for all Americans.

Dr. Howard Koh is the Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.