With ACA safe, Biden administration putting focus on health disparities

The Department of Health and Human Services is putting a focus on addressing health disparities, Secretary Xavier Becerra said. (Sarah Stierch/CC BY 4.0)

With the Affordable Care Act legally safe—for now—the Biden administration is turning its eyes to addressing health inequity.

On a call with reporters Friday morning, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said the Supreme Court's 7-2 decision to uphold the landmark healthcare law amounts to a sigh of relief for those fighting to save it.

As California's attorney general, Becerra was a key figure in the SCOTUS case ahead of stepping into the HHS secretary role.

"We believe we really can grow our healthcare system," he said. "For many of us who fought for this, it's not just a relief but a sign of where we are going moving forward."

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Becerra said that from 2010 to 2019, uninsured rates among Hispanic people decreased by 10% and among Black people by 8%. However, significant access gaps remain, he said.

These gaps were exposed even more fully by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted people in communities of color, he said.

"We found out through COVID-19 that our health system has holes in it," he said.

Two key programs the Biden administration has already launched to address disparities include a $6 billion investment in community health centers, which aims to assist them in expanding vaccinations and COVID-19 testing for people in vulnerable communities.

Becerra said about two-thirds of patients who visit such clinics are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

In addition, the agency is looking at maternal mortality as a key issue. Becerra said maternal mortality rates for Black women are three to four times higher than those for white women. 

He said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is encouraging states to emulate Illinois, which earlier this year became the first state to secure approval for a Medicaid waiver to guarantee Medicaid coverage to women for 12 months postpartum.

"What we're doing is encouraging states to work with us," Becerra said.