As February comes to a close, we want to pause and recognize Black History Month. Often Black History Month is accompanied with celebrations of history and accomplishments of black Americans. Many of these opportunities are the result of continued advocacy for civil rights and equity in labor, education, transportation, housing and health. Within this spirit of equity and advocacy, Community Catalyst is committed to weaving a health equity lens into our entire advocacy and programmatic work. Our vision of health equity is to create a society in which everyone has a fair opportunity to achieve their full health potential, regardless of the individual’s or population group’s race, color, religion, national or ethnic origin, immigration status, class, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression.
As we strive to achieve our vision of health equity, we must recognize the current reality of the health outcomes that black Americans face. Health outcomes can be impacted by number of different factors, from individual behaviors to systemic influences – the latter often referred to as social determinants of health, “the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, the physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care. Unfortunately, black communities have shown significant disparities across a number of health outcomes for many years. And many of these disparities are a result of inequities within structural systems and social determinants of health. Some cases in point: African American babies are twice as likely to die before age one as white babies; 73 percent of black children are more likely to be obese than white children; 60 percent of black adults are more likely to have diabetes than white adults.
Health disparities are detrimental to the health of our communities and country. Poor health outcomes in any group lead to poorer overall outcomes in our society’s educational attainment and economy. In order to understand the existing disparities among racial and ethnic communities and find effective solutions, we need to ensure that policies are in place that require the collection and reporting of data on disparities. Inadequate health data can mask unique patient and population needs and undermine effective interventions. In complete opposition to the goal of gaining more insight on disparities, a bill introduced in Congress last month specifically restricts using Federal (HUD) funds to "design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing." Bills like this are harmful to low-income communities of color and push our society backward rather than forward towards health equity.
As we continue to think about advocacy efforts to defend the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, it’s also very important for advocates to consider the implications and impacts harmful policies can have on vulnerable communities. Under the ACA, the uninsured rates for blacks dropped from 21 percent in 2013 to 13 percent in 2016. In states that decided to take up Medicaid expansion, blacks are less likely to be uninsured. Defending the ACA and Medicaid is more than just defending access to coverage; it is about protecting human rights and moving towards realizing our vision for health equity.
Reflecting on Black History Month reminds us not only of the fights of the past, but of the continued fight forward for equity.