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Each April, National Minority Health Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made to improve the health and well-being of people of color
and remind ourselves of the hard work still ahead to reduce health disparities and inequity.
This year marks five years since the Health Information
Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and four years
since the monumental Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) were signed into law.
We are more certain than ever that we are on the right track and more hopeful than ever that all people can achieve and maintain their optimal health
The HITECH Act and ACA are designed to improve healthcare access and quality of care for all people living in the United States, but will benefit women of
color in particular. Women of color experience negative reproductive health outcomes at greater rates than their white counterparts, in part because of
lack of access to quality health care. Women of color are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy, suffer from pregnancy-related diseases and
adverse outcomes, contract sexually-transmitted infections (STI) including HIV, and detect cancer at later stages. Fortunately, because of ACA and HITECH,
more women of color are able to access important health services and use technology to manage their care and track their progress.
The reproductive health field is a poignant example of where HITECH and ACA are working together to help people achieve the health they want. Within ACA,
the no-copay contraceptive coverage requirement ensures that all women are able to access contraception and related services at no additional cost through
their health insurance. So far, 5.4 million people who didn’t have coverage before
now have health insurance. The Guttmacher Institute reports that the percentage of women who obtain pills and contraceptive vaginal rings at no cost has increased from 15 percent to 40
percent and from 23 percent to 52 percent, respectively. It’s working to improve access! Of course, that’s a great thing - research shows that when women are able to access important health care like
contraception, they are better able to achieve their education, career, and economic goals – all of which are important factors that influence health and
well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
While ACA has been working to expand financial access to health care, HITECH has helped providers and patients better manage patient care, enhance quality, and improve health outcomes through
electronic health records (EHR) and other health information technologies. For women, this means being able to view lab results (like STI testing) online
in a timely fashion, track appointments and prenatal progress, and request refills for birth control electronically – this tool is of particular importance
for busy women who are juggling multiple responsibilities. For providers, it means keeping better track of important health information and coordinating
care for patients who have more than one care provider.
Moreover, health information technology and telemedicine have great potential to improve access to quality care for the millions of women living in rural or underserved
areas. For example, the Antenatal Neonatal Guidelines, Education, and Learning System (ANGELS) network, based at the University of Arkansas, connects family practitioners and patients with maternal, fetal, and neonatal medicine
specialists they may not have had access to otherwise. By building a bridge to share information and resources, technologies such as telemedicine, HIT, and
EHR enhance the ability of health systems to provide timely, quality, and comprehensive health care.
This month, we should pause to celebrate the progress made without losing sight of the work that needs to continue. We must continue reaching for full
participation in programs offered by the HITECH Act to make the most of existing health information technology. We must also push for full implementation
of the ACA. For example, expanding Medicaid eligibility requirements is critical for improving access to quality care, but it’s optional. A state can
choose whether or not to make changes that would allow more low-income people to enroll in the Medicaid program. Almost half of states - many of
which are home to large populations of people of color, people with lower incomes, and people living in rural areas - have not taken any action to
implement Medicaid expansion. These states must expand their Medicaid eligibility requirements as soon as possible so that their residents can start
benefitting from high quality health care. It’s working for millions of people right now, and it can work for millions more.
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Elizabeth Dawes Gay
believes that health is a human right and has devoted her life’s work to helping
create a world where all people have the necessary tools, resources, and
opportunities to live healthy and empowered lives. She is a Senior Associate at
the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. Elizabeth is also a member of
the Echoing Ida writing collective.
Follow her on Twitter @edawesgay.