By Kathleen Sebelius
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 1, 2014) — In May, we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and recognize the many contributions of these diverse and culturally rich communities to the fabric of American life.
The theme of the month is “I am Beyond,” a testament to the aspirations and spirit of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. While Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have made significant public health, scientific, and medical contributions to the nation’s health and well-being, these communities still face health disparities, such as disproportionately high rates of Hepatitis B and A and tuberculosis.
Expanding access to health coverage is essential to attacking health disparities and improving health outcomes. For too long, far too many Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders lacked access to affordable health coverage.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans, including nearly 2 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, have an opportunity to get quality, affordable health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
And because of the Affordable Care Act, more Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders now have access to important preventive services and vaccinations at no out-of-pocket cost. This is particularly important with Hepatitis B, as nearly 2 out of 3 people carrying the disease don’t know they are infected and liver cancer caused by the Hepatitis B virus is a leading cause of cancer among Asian Americans.
To combat this silent epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched the multi-lingual Know Hepatitis B campaign with community organizations across the country to raise awareness among Asian American and Pacific Islanders about the importance of Hepatitis B testing and vaccination.
Our work also ensures that the millions of Americans who have gained access to health services because of the ACA know how to use their coverage and those with limited English-proficiency have access to culturally and linguistically appropriate care.
Also, in an effort to eliminate health disparities, we are gathering data to help us identify the gaps in access to care and develop targeted interventions. In collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau, HHS launched a project last December to collect detailed health information from Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to help identify and address their health needs.
During this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, let us recognize how our friends and neighbors have enriched our nation in very many ways and recommit to making a difference in the health and well-being of their lives.
Kathleen Sebelius is the U.S. Sectretary of Health and Human Services.