National Hispanic Medical Association Annual Conference
April 27, 2012
I want to thank you for your commitment to improving our country’s health. On a national level, you can look at any of our biggest goals as a country – creating jobs, helping our children succeed in school, building stronger communities. Improving health contributes to every single one of them.
On an individual level, health is fundamental to opportunity. The healthier we are, the more freedom we have to pursue our dreams and contribute to our families, our workplaces and communities. A healthier country is one in which many more Americans have the chance to reach their full potential.
And yet, as you know, too many people of this nation have not been able to enjoy that freedom, especially in your communities.
Latinos today are more likely to go without the preventive care they need to stay healthy. They’re more likely to suffer from a serious illness like diabetes or heart disease. And when they do get sick, they’re less likely to have access to the treatments and medicines they need to get better. As a result, too many Latinos live sicker and die younger in America than they should.
This is one reason many of you went into medicine. You wanted to confront this injustice and help close these disparities. And that’s exactly what you’re doing every day when you put your training and talent to work, helping patients get well and stay healthy.
But I bet that most of you have found that there is a limit to the difference you can make. It is the limit you are forced to confront when a patient tells you he didn’t take the medicine you prescribed because he couldn’t afford it. Or when a neighbor calls one evening asking you to examine her child’s frightening symptoms, because they’re uninsured and don’t want to go to the emergency room.
These are the kinds of problems that no individual doctor can solve alone. They are broader, bigger, more systematic challenges.
They are the kind of problems we have to solve together.
Over the last few years that is what the Obama Administration has set out to do. And I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about some of what we’ve accomplished -- and more importantly how we can work together to do even more.
The biggest single step we’ve taken to address health disparities in years was passing the historic health care law, the Affordable Care Act. Let me highlight just some of the progress we’ve seen.
- Today, there are 736,000 Latino young adults across the country who would have been uninsured but now have coverage under their parent’s health plan.
- There are an estimated six million Latino Americans with private insurance who can now get recommended preventive care without paying any co-pay or deductible.
- There are nearly four million Latino Americans on Medicare who have access to new benefits like free preventive care and savings on prescription drugs when they hit the coverage gap known as the donut hole.
- There are new common sense rules of the road for insurance companies. For example, they can no longer deny coverage to children because of their preexisting health conditions like asthma or diabetes.
- And we estimate that up to 9 million Latino Americans who are uninsured today will be eligible for coverage beginning in less than 2 years.
What all of this means is that we are moving toward a health care system where you will be able to begin far more conversations with patients by saying: what can I do to help? Not asking: what coverage do you have?
But we need your help. People can’t take advantage of these new benefits and protections unless they know they exist. And the mistruths and smears spread by the law’s opponents have left a lot of people confused about what the law means for them.
There’s no one in a better position to correct these misconceptions and get people the facts they need to take advantage of the law, than you – America’s health care providers.
That’s especially true when it comes to making sure that our work to expand access to coverage fully translates into more people actually enrolled.
As we’ve learned with the CHIP and Medicaid programs, the fact that coverage is available doesn’t mean that people are taking advantage of it.
In fact, when we came into office, there were 5 million kids eligible for CHIP and Medicaid but not actually enrolled. And one of our biggest efforts since then has been working with partners across the country to get them signed up. Thanks in part to that effort, we now have the biggest number of kids with health insurance in American history.
And as we move toward 2014, we’re going to need a similar effort to make sure that the tens of millions of Americans, including Latinos, who are gaining access to coverage know about their new options.
You are going to be crucial to that effort. And we have a great tool that can help you.
In 2010, we created a new consumer website called healthcare.gov. It allows you and your patients to see – for the first time ever – all of your insurance options in one place. We also launched a Spanish language version: CuidadodeSalud.gov. And I encourage all of you to visit the site and direct your patients there as well.
But lack of health insurance isn’t the only obstacle that’s stopped people in your communities from getting the care they need.
We have too many communities without enough providers -- and particularly without enough culturally competent providers to care for growing populations. Sometimes, patients have to take three buses and half a day off work in order to see their doctor. And when they finally reach you, the patient can only spend 15 minutes with their busy provider who’s simply trying to make ends meet.
So we’re investing in our primary care workforce, with a special focus on doctors and nurses from underserved communities who we know are more likely to go back to those same communities to practice.
Since 2009 we’ve nearly tripled the size of the National Health Service Corps. This is a program many of you know, where we say to doctors, nurses, and other health professionals: “If you go practice in an underserved community, we’ll give you a scholarship or help pay your loans.”
While Latino physicians make-up just 5 percent of the national physician workforce, they represent more than 20 percent of the physicians in the corps. And I want to take a moment to recognize those of you here today. Individually you are touching lives and improving people’s health. Together, you have begun to change the national landscape. Thank you for your commitment.
But we’re not just waiting for the next generation of leaders to graduate from medical school and other allied health programs. We’re reaching out early with “pipeline” programs that serve disadvantaged students with promise, starting in middle school and high school and guiding them toward a career in medicine and health.
And to help make sure that those doctors, nurse practitioners, dentists and others have the opportunity to work in underserved communities, we’re investing billions in more than a 1,000 community health centers nationwide allowing them to construct and renovate buildings, add dental and mental health services, stay open longer, and serve millions of additional patients in the future.
We’re turning to Promotores de Salud, lay health workers empowered to connect and educate hard-to-reach populations. They offer information, provide access, and can follow through with a patient long after they walk out of a doctor’s office or hospital.
Last year, we launched an initiative to support their efforts -- creating a network of leaders committed to advancing Promotores’ work and building a national database with as many as 15,000 Promotores in the first year alone.
These investments represent a commitment to the idea that the best resource we have to improve health—is the people all around us. And this again is where we need your help.
By making sure your neighbors, patients, and colleagues are aware of the health care law’s new resources, you’re not just providing a public service. You’re also making the law concrete and tangible. And as more people become more familiar with the law, they will feel comfortable taking advantage of it in their own lives.
So please share the latest news about the local addition to your neighborhood community health center. Please make sure your colleagues and your colleagues’ most ambitious children know all about the National Health Service Corps. And reach out to the Promotores in your local community to help them connect to our national network.
Cesar Chavez said, "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community.”
All of you have lived that quote. As physicians and researchers, you make our nation healthier and stronger every day. When you reach your patients, their health improves, their communities grow more secure.
But those of you here today have gone one step further. As part of an organization like the National Hispanic Medical Association you’ve dedicated yourself to improving the health of Hispanic populations around the country and you’ve dedicated yourself to putting an end to health disparities.
If we want to build on the progress we’ve made in the last three years, we don’t just need your skills in the operating and exam rooms. We need your voices out in your communities, getting people the facts, and explaining exactly what the improvements of the last two years mean for them.
Health care disparities have been a constant source of injustice and inequality in our country and now that we have a renewed effort to combat such disparities, we cannot go back.
Over the last three years, we’ve begun to turn the tide. We need to keep moving forward towards the day when every child in America, no matter where they were born or what their background, has the chance to live a healthy life and contribute to their community and country. And we need your help to do that. Thank you.