Shining a Light on National Minority Health Month

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Shining a Light on National Minority Health Month

ASCA champions equity in healthcare

April is National Minority Health Month, a dedicated time to raise awareness about the health disparities faced by racial and ethnic minorities, as well as American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities in the US. This month highlights the unequal burden of illness and premature death experienced by these populations. It encourages efforts to improve health outcomes through education, early disease detection and chronic disease management.

A Look Back and a Call to Action

National Minority Health Month has its roots in 1915 when Booker T. Washington established the National Negro Health Week. In 2002, Congress officially recognized National Minority Health and Health Disparities Month, urging all health organizations and Americans to actively promote health equity in minority communities.

2024's Theme: Be the Source for Better Health

This year's theme, "Be the Source for Better Health: Improving Health Outcomes Through Our Cultures, Communities, and Connections," goes beyond just raising awareness. The Biden administration is focusing on how social determinants of health (SDOH)—factors like environment, culture and financial circumstances—influence health outcomes in minority communities. Recognizing these inequities, the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health is collaborating with public health and community partners to develop culturally sensitive, high-quality healthcare resources.

ASCA's Role in Achieving Health Equity

ASCA champions diversity and inclusion in healthcare. It advocates for legislation and programs that expand access to care for underserved communities and create pathways for minorities to pursue healthcare careers.

One key area for ASCs to address health equity is dentistry. ASCA supports the inclusion of dental surgeries in Medicare-approved ASC procedures. This would improve access for people with special needs and disabilities who currently face limited coverage options. ASCA also backs efforts to reduce limitations on dental care access, particularly for those burdened by administrative complexities. Additionally, ASCA supports policies that incentivize recruitment, training and retention of medical professionals in underserved communities.

Copay Cap Provision of the Outpatient Surgery Quality and Access Act of 2023

Medicare currently has an unfair copay system for ASCs. Patients face much higher copays in ASCs compared to hospital outpatient departments (HOPD) for the same procedures. This discourages patients from using the potentially more cost-effective ASC setting and creates unequal access to care for those without supplemental insurance (SI). Since racial disparities are observed in SI coverage, this access issue is exacerbated for certain beneficiaries. More specifically, a study analyzing racial disparities in SI found that only 40 percent of Black beneficiaries are covered by SI in contrast to 72 percent of White beneficiaries, which impacts Black beneficiaries’ use of outpatient services in Medicare Part B.

For years, ASCA has worked with federal legislators to address this inequity and fix the ASC copay penalty. One provision of the Outpatient Surgery Quality and Access Act of 2023 (H.R. 972/S. 312) seeks to address this issue head-on. A simple fix would be to apply the existing HOPD copay cap—$1,632 in 2024—to ASCs, the fairer cost setting, saving Medicare money and improving access to care. This change would reduce Medicare costs substantially while allowing patients more access to equitable care.

Supporting the Dental Care Act

The House of Representatives passed the Action for Dental Health Act of 2023 (H.R. 3843), introduced by Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), which would reauthorize dental workforce development grants for five years. ASCA supports this bill as it focuses on

  • loan repayment for dentists working in underserved areas,
  • workforce recruitment and retention programs,
  • establishing dental homes for underserved communities, and
  • reducing unnecessary emergency room visits for preventable dental needs.

During House consideration on March 5, 2024, Kelly stressed the importance of oral health in preventing chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and issues during pregnancy. “By prioritizing early diagnosis, intervention, and preventive dental treatments, we can significantly improve the well-being of patients and alleviate strain on our healthcare system,” she said.

The Senate included a similar provision in a broader healthcare workforce bill with a higher funding level. Both bills need to be reconciled before becoming law.

The Biden Administration Takes Action

Increased access to primary care is crucial for managing chronic conditions, preventive care and overall wellness. Rural and underserved communities often face difficulties attracting and retaining qualified healthcare providers. Culturally competent care, including language proficiency, is essential for effective communication and improved health outcomes.

Recognizing the healthcare worker shortage, the Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources & Services Administration recently announced a significant increase in loan repayment incentives for primary care providers willing to serve in high-need and rural communities. This initiative aims to improve access to primary care, particularly in underserved areas. The program offers loan repayment of up to $75,000 for a two-year service commitment, with an additional bonus for Spanish fluency in areas with limited English proficiency populations.


National Minority Health Month is a reminder of the ongoing need to address health disparities. Initiatives by the government and organizations like ASCA are crucial steps toward achieving health equity and ensuring everyone has access to quality care, regardless of race, ethnicity or background.