This week, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities from around the nation are celebrating the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), our country’s historic health care reform law. The ACA was a significant achievement for our nation and a major step in ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, affordable care. Despite the fact that the ACA has already helped millions of individuals get more affordable health coverage – including young adults and individuals with pre-existing conditions – opponents have challenged the law on a number of fronts, including in the court room.
In just a few days, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in support of and against the law. As a national organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of the more than 18.5 million Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs) living in the U.S. and its jurisdictions, we believe that all persons have the right to be healthy, the right to live in a thriving community, and the right to quality, affordable, and accessible health care. This is why our organization – the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) – filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court defending the law. Our brief – the largest legal representation of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court on any case – highlighted personal stories collected by AA and NHPI community organizations from around the nation.
These stories demonstrate the profound effect the ACA has already had on AA and NHPI communities nationwide, and highlight the ways it will continue to improve health care for many in our communities. Of the nearly 47 million Americans that are uninsured, 1 in 7 are Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. These disparities are even more pronounced among certain ethnic subgroups. For example, over 20 percent of Bangladeshi, Cambodian, Korean, and Pakistani Americans are uninsured.
But what these numbers do not show, is the real effect that uninsurance has on individual and family health. In preparing our brief, we heard from Dennis, an eighteen-year-old Chinese American from Houston Texas, who had gone so long without health insurance he could barely remember what it was like to have consistent access to care. Like many in our communities, Dennis began to sacrifice his health and well-being over economy. For Dennis, doctors’ visits were always burdened with the fear of how much treatment might cost, instead of how to get well.
Thanks to the ACA, low-income adults like Dennis will have access to more affordable health insurance through the establishment of the one-stop shopping portals, known as the Exchanges, and through the expansion of the Medicaid program. In addition, many AA and NHPIs shopping for insurance in the Exchanges will be eligible for tax credits and subsidies to help them afford coverage for themselves and their families.
The ACA will also help young adults like Jessica – a Taiwanese American college student – access affordable health coverage. Jessica – like many young adults just starting out – has found it difficult to afford private insurance while attending school and working part time. Because of the ACA, young adults can now remain on their parent’s insurance plans up to age 26 – a benefit that has already helped 97,000 Asian American young adults gain coverage.
But the ACA does not stop there. It recognizes that expanding access to insurance is only part of the equation and must be coupled with improvements in health care quality. AAs and NHPIs are incredibly diverse – representing over 50 ethnicities and over 100 different languages. This diversity sometimes makes it difficult to access care that meets our linguistic and cultural needs – something that Tot knows all too well. Tot, a Vietnamese American living in New Orleans, Louisiana, has consistently had difficulties finding Vietnamese-speaking doctors and interpreters. When Tot goes to the doctor, his experience is clouded by the language barrier, resulting in him feeling marginalized and treated differently.
Health care reform will help limited-English proficient AAs and NHPIs like Tot get health care that is more culturally and linguistically accessible. The ACA requires that insurers translate vital documents like benefits summaries into a number of languages, provide consumers with assistance over the phone and in person and write materials in plain language, so that documents are culturally and linguistically accessible. In addition, the law will help increase the number of AA and NHPI health care workers who can provide culturally competent care.
These stories are just a snapshot of our community’s needs and provide just a few examples of the impact the ACA has had, and will have on our communities. As we celebrate the second anniversary of the ACA and eagerly await the Supreme Court’s decision on the law, we know that it is essential that our communities continue to work together at the local, state and national levels to implement the ACA and move our nation forward so that we can all realize the promise of health reform.
Kathy Lim Ko is president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF). APIAHF. APIAHF influences policy, mobilizes communities, and strengthens programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. For more information about how Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders can benefit from the Affordable Care Act, visit APIAHF’s Health Care Reform Resource Center.