Too often, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are viewed as a “model minority” group – one that is wealthy, healthy and happy. However, this misconception masks many of the challenges the AAPI community faces – including persistent disparities in health and health care. For instance, nearly one out of every five AAPIs lacks health insurance. Moreover, AAPIs, like other racial and ethnic minority groups, suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases such as hepatitis B, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. AAPIs are also the least likely among all racial groups to receive routine mammograms and pap smears.
Three years after its passage, the Affordable Care Act is proving to be a tipping point in our efforts to help address these disparities. Access to affordable health insurance coverage is one of the most important determinants of an individual’s health. Because of the health care law, AAPIs are already gaining greater access to health coverage, thanks to provisions that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26, and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition, like diabetes.
And, that’s just the beginning; starting in 2014 nearly 2 million uninsured Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will have new opportunities for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Also, increased funding to community health centers is enabling more AAPIs to receive culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Strengthened data collection standards that distinguish between AAPI subgroups will help providers and policymakers better understand the diverse needs of different groups in the AAPI community, and make more informed decisions about how best to address health disparities. These are just a few of the many ways the Affordable Care Act benefits AAPIs.
An important feature of the Affordable Care Act is the new Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace will serve as a one-stop shop for individuals, families, and small businesses to search for health coverage options and apply to enroll in the plan that best fits their needs. Individuals can compare plans based on price, benefits, and other features, as well as find out if they are eligible for assistance to help pay for premiums or other programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Enrollment in the Marketplace begins October 1, 2013 for coverage beginning in (or after) January 2014, so it’s important to get ready now to apply and enroll.
HealthCare.gov is the official website for the latest and most accurate information about the Marketplace. With resources, videos, and checklists, and a live web chat available 24/7, the website is the best resource for consumers to learn about health coverage options and enrollment now. Beginning October 1, HealthCare.gov will be the place to go to directly access the Marketplace. Consumers can also call the toll-free number now at 1-800-318-2596 to speak with a representative. The call center offers assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days per week in over 150 languages, including Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese.
Brochures, fact sheets, posters, infographics and videos (including materials in Asian languages) are also available at marketplace.cms.gov. The White House Initiative on AAPIs also provides more information on the Affordable Care Act specifically for the AAPI community. Now is the time to learn about your options, prepare for enrollment, and spread the word to your loved ones and your communities about these new opportunities for health coverage and health care.
Dr. J. Nadine Gracia is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).