National Minority Health Month: Prevention Is the Key to Better Health in Our Communities

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Some of you reading this may be a little tired of hearing about health insurance. Now that the Affordable Care Act has increased access to health insurance and lifesaving preventive care for millions of Americans, and now that the enrollment period is over for the year, we can stop talking about it, right?

As an Outreach Organizer with Planned Parenthood, I’ve spent the last few months talking to more people about health insurance than most — and I’ve been helping them enroll in Medicaid or in affordable plans through the ACA marketplace. The majority of the time, the people I speak with have never been insured. They only go to the doctor or hospital if they’re very sick, and any preventive care is ignored. I’ve been helping them understand that you can be the healthiest person in the world and still have an accident, or twist your ankle — you just never know what can happen, and you don’t want to go into debt because of medical bills.

April is National Minority Health Month, an excellent opportunity to highlight just how important preventive care is. Unfortunately, many minority communities suffer from a lack of access to health care and health education services.  Members of the African-American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities experience poorer health outcomes than their white counterparts, and have a critical need for preventive health care services like lifesaving cancer screenings, testing and treatment for STDs, Pap tests, and health education.  I see this firsthand in my work helping uninsured people, many of whom are of color, enroll in affordable health insurance.

Every week, I’ve been re-energized by the stories of people I’ve helped, and hearing about the peace of mind they have now that they’re insured. There was a man who broke his nose last year, putting him $6,000 in debt. I helped him apply for insurance that only costs him $18 a month. I helped a woman who takes very expensive medications to control her diabetes get insured through the marketplace for just $19 a month. I also talk to a lot of families, many of whom are really struggling to pay the rent and buy groceries, so their health is just not a priority. I remember helping a family of five, who qualified for $700 each month in subsidies, get covered for $300 each month. You should have seen how excited the father was! He told me he only ever thinks of his children, so now he and his wife can take better care of their own health now, too.

I can relate: growing up, I had to have a number of different surgeries and procedures that changed my life and allowed me to be an active kid. I’m lucky I had access to free care; otherwise those procedures never would have been accessible to me.

I’m grateful to be part of Planned Parenthood, which places a priority on providing high-quality, affordable health care to women, men, and young people — no matter who they are or where they live. Planned Parenthood knows that when people are truly cared for, they make their lives, their families, and their communities better and healthier.

And while our nation has done a lot to advance health care outcomes for all in the past few years, there are things we can do to help our loved ones and our communities. It starts with preventive care and a focus on better health, person by person. I encourage you to take this month to see if you’re due for a checkup — and check in with your loved ones about their health, as well. The Affordable Care Act means that millions more Americans have access to health insurance and preventive care — and we can each do our piece to keep moving our country forward to better health care outcomes for everyone and every community.

For more information about Planned Parenthood’s services, or to schedule an appointment at the health center nearest you, visit plannedparenthood.org.

Diali Avila is an employee of Planned Parenthood.

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