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LULAC Unity Luncheon

June 30, 2011
Cincinnati, Ohio

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon. It’s great to be with you here in my hometown. This is where I got my start in politics, working on my father’s campaigns for city council. I was five and I thought all kindergarten students spent their Sundays putting up campaign signs.

I still have a few favorite local places. If you only remember three words I say today, remember these: Graeter’s Ice Cream. There’s a location right down the street. As Secretary of Health and Human Services, I don’t usually tell people to go eat ice cream, but I make an exception for Graeter’s.

Today, I want to talk to you about one of the single biggest steps we can take to improve opportunity for Latinos, which is reducing health disparities.

Since LULAC was founded more than 80 years ago, you have fought for a simple goal that is at the heart of the American dream: equal opportunity for all people, no matter their background or heritage.

And you can’t have opportunity without good health. A child who isn't protected against the measles or chicken pox is going to miss school and fall behind her peers. Parents who can’t get treatment for their chronic pain are going to miss work and be passed over for promotions. Young people who have a stack of unpaid medical bills will have a hard time pursuing their dreams. If we want to give every Latino and every American a chance to reach their full potential, we need to start with improving health.

Today, Latinos fall behind at every step along the path to good health. Latinos are more likely to suffer from health problems like obesity. They’re less likely to have a regular doctor or get preventive care. They have higher rates of diseases like diabetes and HIV/AIDS. And when they do get sick, it’s harder for them to get treatment because they’re less likely to have health insurance.

This has huge costs for Latino families and communities, but it also has huge costs for our country. In a global economy where what matters, increasingly, are not natural resources but human resources, it’s estimated that racial and ethnic health disparities cost our economy more than $300 billion a year in lost productivity. This is not just a problem for Latinos. This is a problem for all Americans!

And it’s why President Obama has taken on health disparities from his first day in office.

One of the first bills he signed was the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a program for which 70 percent of Latino children are eligible. The law not only increased funding to allow the program to serve four million more kids. It also gave states the option of providing Medicaid and CHIP coverage to pregnant women and children who are legal residents regardless of when they entered the US. Twenty-three states have already done just that, clearing the way for tens of thousands of children and pregnant women to get the care they need.

We also released a new national HIV/AIDS strategy that will focus our resources on the communities, including Latinos, that are hardest hit. And our Department has produced its first-ever department-wide strategy for reducing health disparities with ideas taken from conversations with more than 2,000 doctors, nurses, teachers, businesspeople, and community leaders across the country.

But the biggest single step we’ve taken to address health disparities is last year’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act. This is not just the most important law for improving Latino health of the last two years. It’s the most important law for improving Latino health since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid 45 years ago. It contains reforms that address every single one of the gaps I health I mentioned earlier.

But because it contains so many reforms – and because so many millions of dollars have been spent on misleading attacks – there’s still a lot of confusion, especially among Latinos, about what exactly the law does. That’s made it hard for families across the country to take advantage of the new benefits. And it’s helped out those in Washington whose goal is to smear and ultimately repeal the law.

So today, I’m asking you to be our partners in educating people about the Affordable Care Act. I’m asking you to help to dispel the myths, cut through the confusion, and make sure people have the facts about how the law will improve their lives.

And that starts with five key points about the law that every Latino should know.

First, it’s going extend coverage to 34 million people who currently have no health insurance, including up to nine million Latinos. These are our parents, brothers, sisters, and neighbors, and this means that the next time they get sick, they can get the care they need without being bankrupted by a hospital bill.

Second, it’s going to bring more doctors and nurses to your communities. Today, too many Latinos don’t get their checkups and screenings simply because they can’t get an appointment. Thanks to the law, there will be thousands of new primary care doctors and nurses in the communities that need them most, with a special focus on training more Latino doctors and nurses.

Third, the law is making it easier to get preventive care. Too many Latinos get sick today because they skipped a mammogram, or a flu shot, or prenatal care. To help change that, the health care law eliminates most Americans’ co-pays and deductibles for these important screenings, so the Latina mom no longer needs to choose between a $30 copay for a mammogram and using that $30 dollars for groceries.

Fourth, the law is going to save money for small businesses. Latinos are the fastest growing group of small business owners in the country. But too many are struggling with skyrocketing health insurance costs. I remember talking to one Hispanic businessman in Connecticut who said simply, “I can afford to pay salaries or I can afford to pay health insurance, but I can’t afford both.”

To help small business owners like him, the law is providing tax credits for health coverage, starting at up to 35 percent of health care premiums and rising to up to 50 percent. And beginning in 2014, there will be a new health insurance marketplace where small business owners will have the same, affordable health insurance as Members of Congress.

Fifth, the law supports community programs that improve health and wellness. In too many neighborhoods today, health suffers because it’s hard for families to make healthy choices. When you have to walk two miles to get fresh produce at the supermarket but only half a block to get a bag of chips at the bodega, it’s hard to eat nutritious meals. Through the law, we’re investing in the best state and local efforts to make the healthy choice, the easy and affordable choice.

So when someone asks you what this law means for Latino communities – when they ask, “Why should I care? What's in it for my family?” – you can answer loud and clear:

This law means more access to health coverage for the people we love. It means more access to doctors and nurses who not only speak my languages but are sensitive to my culture. It means more access to preventive care to keep us healthy. It means more affordable coverage for the small businesses we own or work for so they can grow their companies and create ,pre kpbs. And that’s just the start.

Or you can put it even more simply: this law means better health, better care, and lower costs.

It’s never been more important than now to get this information out. If the law’s opponents get their way, it will mean 9 million Latinos won’t get the security of coverage if they get sick. It will mean fewer doctors and nurses in the neighborhoods that need them the most. It will mean more people going without cancer screenings because of expensive co-pays. It will mean higher costs for owners of local businesses that are already struggling in the economic downturn.

I know some of you may be tired of talking about health care. But if we want to protect these benefits – which took decades to achieve – we need to make sure people know exactly what’s at stake.

Three years ago, President Obama came to this conference to talk about how we could build the kind of government that “works for all Americans.” He talked about the fundamentally American belief that our fortunes rise and fall together. This is what Caesar Chavez was getting at when he said, “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” It’s what has motivated generations of LULAC members to fight for equal rights and better wages.

If we want to open the doors of opportunity to all Americans, we need to start by giving every American the chance to live a healthy, fulfilling life. We’ve taken some important steps in the last two years. But we need your help to make sure this progress isn’t lost – and that we keep moving forward toward a future where every American has the chance to pursue their dreams and make a full contribution to their community and country.

Thank you.