As a Hmong American woman who is well versed on health issues of Hmong in the United States, I was stunned by the staggering statistics I recently learned about diseases that affect Southeast Asian American women. For example, a Minnesota Department of Health study found that between 1993 and 2003, disparities in gestational diabetes widened among Southeast Asian American women increasing by over 8 percent, the highest among all racial and ethnic groups in Minnesota (compared to 3.6 percent among non-Hispanic White women)! After spending the past several days in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, attending the 15th Hmong National Conference and participating in round table discussions with community members, I am convinced that the work of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAPPI) is more important than ever.
On Monday, I participated in a WHIAAPI listening session on health issues organized by the Minnesota Asian/American Health Coalition and held at the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. I was struck by the realization that almost every recommendation put forth by community advocates and leaders on how to improve health care in their communities can beaddressed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was passed and signed into law in March 2010. For example, community health advocates spoke about the shocking rates of diabetes and obesity among Southeast Asian Americans. Prevention of diseases like these is an important component of the ACA. Under the ACA, elders enrolled in Medicare can now receive preventative services without any co-payment deductibles or “out-of-pocket” costs; and infants, young children, and adolescents can receive preventative care at no cost.
Community advocates also discussed the tremendous need for community health centers to better serve the cultural and linguistic needs of the Asian American community. The ACA provides an opportunity to address this issue by investing in community health centers and improving the services they can provide. The ACA also requires collecting and reporting of data on race and ethnicity- another issue raised by community advocates. Additional provisions in the ACA that help the Asian American and Pacific Islander community include the expansion of Medicaid to help more vulnerable families, and the closing of the Medicare donut hole so that seniors are able to afford their medication.
At the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) where I serve as executive director, we recently launched a campaign to help Southeast Asian Americans better understand their rights and benefits under the new health care law and how to influence its implementation. We realize that due to language barriers and the complexity of the health care system, vital information about the ACA may not be reaching all community members. As a commissioner, I appreciated the chance to hear directly from community members about their challenges, and I was especially excited to respond that there is hope and that there are programs addressing these concerns.
My time in Minnesota this past week illustrates the incredible opportunity that WHIAPPI has to visit people on the ground, speak with communities, listen to their concerns, and share information with them. That is why we participated in the 15th Hmong National Conference this past weekend—which brought together over 800 multi-generational individuals from several states—to learn from participants and share information with them about the Affordable Care Act. It is only through listening and learning from individuals on the ground that we can better highlight the concerns and ideas of AAPI community members.
Medicare.gov provides consumer information in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean - “The New Health Care Law and You” is available at: http://www.medicare.gov/multilanguage.aspx. Additionally, in-language materials from our partners are available at: http://www.apiahf.org/policy-and-advocacy/health-care-reform-resource-center/education-outreach-and-action/frequently-aske, http://www.healthhelp.ca.gov/, and http://www.opa.ca.gov/about/consumer_information/index.aspx.
Doua Thor serves on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and is the executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), a national nonprofit organization advancing the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans through leadership development, capacity building, and community empowerment.