By Ms. Belkis Leong-Hong
As of this week, sixteen million AAPIs can expect to benefit from the reduction of preventable diseases and conditions through the Patients’ Bill of Rights. When congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama enacted the Affordable Care Act six months ago, the new law included a “Patients’ Bill of Rights” to protect consumers and patients from some of the insurance industry’s most abusive practices. This series of provisions prioritizes preventive care and recourse for patients that have been unfairly denied claims.
AAPI communities are needlessly left vulnerable to treatable diseases and avoidable conditions because of the prohibitive cost of preventive care or because their insurance plans just won’t cover regular screenings. The Patients’ Bill of Rights will help to eliminate disparities that exist among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by requiring providers to provide cancer screenings and preventive care without copayments or deductibles.
As of this week, when individuals and families enroll in a new health plan, that plan will be required to cover certain recommended services without copayments or deductibles.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and AAPI communities suffer from disparities in screening and incidence rates. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are less likely than other groups to get screened for cancer.
Asian American women get recommended mammogram and Pap smears at a lower rate when compared to white women. Vietnamese American women have a cancer incidence rate five times that of white women – higher than any other ethnic group in the United States. The Patients’ Bill of Rights ensures that new health plans cover regular mammograms for women over 40 and Pap smears to reduce the rate of cancer as well as the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
For colorectal cancer screenings, AAPI communities are screened at a rate of 42 percent while white Americans are screened at a rate of 59 percent. To increase the chances of catching early signs of colon cancer, the reform bill has new regulations to ensure that new plans offer screening tests for adults over 50.
When compared to white Americans aged 40 and older, Asian American and Pacific Islanders are more likely to have Hepatitis B, but the Patients’ Bill of Rights will require new plans to cover the Hepatitis B vaccination.
Some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also suffer from an unacceptably high rate of infant mortalities. To promote healthy pregnancies, the Patients’ Bill of Rights will ensure that mothers have access to the services they need including screening for conditions that can harm pregnant women or their babies like iron deficiency and hepatitis B.
The Patients’ Bill of Rights provisions that go into effect this week will save lives and help to reduce the disproportionately higher health risks that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders experience.
By Ms. Belkis Leong-Hong is the current Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Asian Pacific Islander American Caucus.