By Kathy Lim Ko
As the President and Congress prepare for their February 25th health care reform summit, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum urges the President and Congress to ensure that this nation moves ahead with comprehensive reform that meaningfully addresses issues of access, affordability, and quality in health care.
Over one in six Asian Americans and one in four Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are uninsured. Approximately 12 percent of Asian Americans and almost 20 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live in poverty. Members of these communities suffer disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, breast cancer mortality, stomach cancer, mental health conditions, and other serious health impairments. For many in this country, the current health system lacks adequate options and care. APIAHF supports guaranteed, affordable, quality health care for all.
Health care should be accessible. Health coverage clears the path to the life- and cost-saving regular medical care that will help ensure the effectiveness and continued viability of the health care system. Costs will decrease for everyone as more individuals join the health care system and receive timely care.
Excluding populations from participation, however, will stymie any improvements made in the health care system. Currently, newly arrived, taxpaying legal immigrants must wait five years before they gain eligibility for Medicaid and, in many states, the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With over 60 percent of Asian Americans foreign born, APIAHF considers the removal of this waiting period a priority.
In addition, undocumented immigrants in this country are unfairly excluded from affordable coverage. If reforms include the establishment of one or more health Exchanges, this population should not be excluded from purchasing unsubsidized coverage through this new marketplace. Attempts to exclude this population through citizenship verification will lead to significant spending on creating verification systems which, in the past, served mainly as a significant administrative hurdle that many individuals, including U.S. citizens, could not overcome.
Health care should be affordable. Without reforms, health care premiums will continue to rise at a pace that wages cannot follow. In addition to high rates of poverty, our communities also consist of many living at just above the poverty line where they can neither attain federal benefits nor affordable private health insurance. Expansion of Medicaid to 150 percent of the federal poverty level and to childless adults within that income range, the provision of adequate affordability credits for coverage in the newly created Exchange(s), the elimination of gender-based rating bands, and the limitation on age-based rating bands rank among the most promising features of an affordable health care system.
Health care should be of high quality. Finally, meaningful improvements must include advancements in the quality of care provided. Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and many other minority communities require health care attuned to the unique characteristics of their populations. Data collection on the health disparities that persist in racial and ethnic groups will help to identify emerging health trends and the best practices to treat current and advancing health disparities. With over one-third of the Asian American population having limited English proficiency and a majority born in foreign countries, effective health care must also ensure that these populations can access linguistically and culturally appropriate services.
APIAHF thanks our leaders for their work over the past year and urges them to advance this nation’s health care in critically necessary and meaningful ways for the underserved.
Kathy Lim Ko is the President and CEO of Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.