National Hispanic Heritage Month Is a Call to Action

National Hispanic Heritage Month Is a Call to Action

Right now, Americans are celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15. It’s a time to recognize the enormous contributions that Hispanic Americans have made to our country’s history and culture — and reflect on the progress we still have to make.

Much of that unfinished work relates to Hispanic health equity. And on the heels of a once-in-a-century pandemic and Congress passing historic healthcare legislation, there’s never been a better time to address the health disparities that continue to weigh on the Hispanic American community.

Hispanic Americans are more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to live with many serious illnesses. Type 2 diabetes, for instance, afflicts 8% of non-Hispanic Whites but 17% of Hispanics. Hispanic Americans are also more likely to develop certain cancers, including stomach cancer, liver cancer, and cervical cancer. Tragically, Hispanic Americans are 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to develop dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

But Hispanic health inequities don’t stop with disproportionately large disease burdens. Hispanic Americans also have a harder time accessing the treatments they need. One reason is that 20% of Hispanics remain uninsured, as compared to just 8% of non-Hispanic Whites. The Hispanic poverty rate is over twice that of non-Hispanic Whites, meaning Hispanics are more likely to struggle paying for treatment. One study of over 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries found that Hispanics were more likely to report cost-related medication nonadherence, meaning they don’t take their prescriptions as directed because of the expense.

It’s up to all of us to end these disparities by supporting Hispanic Americans’ access to health care in all its forms. Contributing to this effort will look different for everybody. For some of us, it might be a task as small as bringing elderly family members to the doctor or volunteering at a local clinic.

But addressing this crisis will take national solutions, too. Thankfully, we’re seeing progress in Congress. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Healthcare Task Force, for instance, has called attention to persisting Hispanic health inequities and pressured President Biden to ensure language accessibility in government healthcare facilities.

Congress’s recently-passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included various provisions that will help advance Hispanics’ access to health care. For example, the bill extended insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, which Hispanic Americans disproportionately rely on to access health insurance. The IRA also capped the price of insulin at $35 a month for Medicare recipients — a big win for Hispanics, who are more likely to live with type 2 diabetes.

Sadly, the IRA also included a number of policies that will move us backwards — not forward — in the fight for equitable access to health care. For instance, the legislation requires Medicare officials to set price ceilings for many prescription drugs, a well-intentioned but misguided provision that will gut biopharmaceutical R&D investment, leading to fewer new treatments and cures for a host of devastating illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

All stakeholders in the healthcare industry should be held accountable for the rising cost of health care, which exacerbates inequalities. Consider the largely unregulated, monopolistic pharmacy benefit managers that drive up the nominal “list” prices of drugs. Or the hospitals that account for nearly half of every insurance premium dollar spent. If we really want to address inflated prices in the healthcare market and achieve health equity, it’s time we take a holistic approach to reform.

Congressional action is surely needed if we’re to succeed in creating a more just, more equitable healthcare system for all Americans. But the treatments mustn’t be worse than the disease. This National Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s commit ourselves to coming up with smart, effective policies. Hispanic Americans’ lives depend on it.