February 4, 2013
Statement from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on African-American History Month
Today, we celebrate the beginning of African-American History Month and honor the remarkable contributions that African-Americans have made to the nation’s progress. At HHS, we honor the opportunities in public health, medicine, and scientific research made possible by leading African-Americans across the country.
During this year, we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and pay tribute to the pioneers who came before us and commit to build on their legacies. It seems only fitting that the theme for African-American History Month is ‘At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.’
African-Americans are part of what makes this country great and our nation’s health and health care system has been strengthened and transformed by their steadfast commitment to ensuring a system of health equity. During this month, we recall Dr. Charles Drew, whose work led to the life-saving ability to store blood plasma; Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful heart surgery in 1893; and Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first African-American professionally trained nurse. In more recent times, we recognize such leaders in public health and health equity as Dr. David Satcher, who served as Surgeon General of the United States, Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We honor these medical trailblazers by carrying on their work to advance health care and expand access to care. Without access to quality health care and the security of health insurance for all Americans, we cannot truly have freedom and equal opportunity for all. This administration is committed to building a nation where every American has a fair shot to achieve his or her dreams. For too long, African-Americans have faced challenges getting the health care they need, and consequently, their opportunities have been limited.
Building on our first ever HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, the Affordable Care Act takes steps to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to live out their full potential by bringing down health care costs, investing in prevention, eliminating the worst of insurance industry abuses, and ensuring millions more Americans have health insurance. The health care law is making preventive services such as flu shots and cancer screenings more accessible than ever and available at no out-of-pocket cost to millions of Americans with private insurance, including 5.5 million African-Americans. The health care law is also helping states expand Medicaid eligibility and it’s strengthening Medicare for our seniors and people with disabilities.
The law also expands coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans through the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Those that are uninsured or underinsured will be able to shop for health insurance through their state’s Health Insurance Marketplace, where they will be able to compare plans based on price, benefits, quality, and other important features and choose the one that best suits their needs. Enrollment begins Oct. 1, 2013. If you need health insurance or know someone who does, you can visit www.HealthCare.gov and learn how to prepare for the new Marketplace and how to get help or help others get the health care they need.
At every level, we are working hard at HHS to make a healthier America by eliminating disparities, increasing diversity of the nation’s health care workforce, and improving the health of all communities. Join us this month as we recognize the achievements of African-Americans and move toward the day when every American has the chance to live a healthy life and contribute to their community and country.
For more information about the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace, please see www.HealthCare.gov.
Learn more about what HHS is doing to fight health disparities at www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov.