Conference at Naperville hotel focuses on minority health issues
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com April 5, 2012 12:10PM
On the web
Information about the impact on uninsured and underinsured populations of changes slated to take effect in 2014 through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act can be found at illinoishealthmatters.org.
Updated: May 7, 2012 8:13AM
Health care reform stands to lift up minority populations that now lack a full range of services — if it stands up to the current challenge in the nation’s top court. Activists say that could mean less illness in underserved communities, and a lower health bill for U.S. taxpayers.
Those premises laid the foundation for the kickoff Wednesday of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s inaugural Minority Health Conference at the newly opened Marriott Chicago Naperville hotel on Naper Boulevard. The theme for the meeting was “Eliminating Health Disparities through Community Transformation.”
In 18 breakout sessions over two days, participants covered a broad range of workshop topics, from hepatitis and heart health to urban farming and social media’s role in public health. The common denominator was discrepancies in access to health care between economically comfortable communities and areas where low incomes predominate and minorities comprise a majority of the residents.
“We know that health disparities exist across communities of color,” said event chairwoman Doris Turner, who heads the state health department’s Center for Minority Health Services.
Stephen Konya, the agency’s chief of staff, noted that minority populations in Illinois continue to have shorter life expectancies than Caucasian residents. Among the women in the state who are HIV positive, 70 percent are African American, he said.
An underlying theme of the advocates’ work is that, because no one is turned away from emergency care, treating illness costs the taxpayer far more than taking steps to keep people well. The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to help by ensuring expanded access to preventive care.
Kenneth Munson, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said minority populations have higher rates of infant mortality and death from coronary heart disease and are admitted to hospitals for treatment much more often than non-minorities. Some 75 percent of health care spending goes to addressing conditions that may be preventable, he said.
But while 50 million Americans do not have health insurance coverage, even though three-quarters of them are employed, Munson said implementation of the health reform measures continues to encounter opposition. He thinks communication is key.
“It’s especially clear that there’s a lack of information about what the law is and what it covers,” he said.
Among the act’s provisions that already are in effect are wellness services now available at no cost, such as cancer screenings, well-baby care and contraception. Munson said the state’s preventive diagnostic procedures went up by more than one million last year after those features were implemented.
Laura Leon of the Campaign for Better Health Care said the health reform measures are triggering a fundamental shift in the nation’s approach to health care.
“We’re not dealing with sick care,” Leon said. “We’re actually dealing with health care.”
According to the Illinois Health Matters coalition, nearly 9 percent of the residents of Naperville, Winfield and Wayne townships — a total of 18,664 people — will benefit from pending changes created by the act. About 4,600 more residents of the townships will become eligible for Medicaid benefits, and more than 14,000 will be helped by the exchange feature.
Leon’s organization believes the anticipated expenses of universal health care guarantees can be met with new fees assessed on insurance providers.
“The insurance industry, even though times have been hard, has been making profits,” Leon said.
Misunderstandings about the potential costs and other misconceptions about the reform persist, she said.
“Many times people think, ‘Oh, the Affordable Care Act is not going to help me, it’s not going to help my community,’” she said.
Leon cited findings reported by the nonpartisan Herndon Alliance that one-quarter of those polled about their opinions of health reform changed their stance after learning the details of exchange. A primary feature of the act, it provides a guarantee of coverage and ensures patients can remain with their current health care provider.
Political interests frequently place obstacles in the way of the education effort, Leon said. Republican legislators, including all of the contenders for the GOP nomination to challenge President Barack Obama’s re-election in November, have led the charge to repeal the health care act. The appeal is being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to issue its findings in June.
“Some people don’t want us all to be healthy, and so they’re fighting it,” Leon said. “But it’s OK, because we know we have a good law.”