Frist Bill Would Emphasize Poverty Factor in Addressing Health Disparities
The New Orleans Times-Picayune on Tuesday examined the growing "controversy" over a bill (S 2091) sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that aims to address health disparities in the United States (Walsh, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3/30). According to Frist, the Closing the Health Care Gap bill would improve health education and research opportunities for minorities, increase access to quality health care, improve racial health disparities data collection, allow for more public-private partnerships on the issue and make permanent the HHS Office of Minority Health (California Healthline, 2/13). But some African-American and Hispanic members of Congress say that changes to current law called for under the bill "would make poverty a bigger part of the [health disparities] equation," possibly "diluting already scarce health care resources and overlooking key issues that put minorities at a disadvantage," according to the Times-Picayune. The bill would eliminate references to "underserved minority populations" from a 2000 law and replace them with "racial and ethnic minorities or health disparity populations," which can include low-income white people. According to the wording of the bill, "The largest numbers of the medically underserved are white individuals, and many of them have the same health care access problems as do members of minority groups." Critics of the bill say that the wording changes would reduce funding for minority health programs by dividing the funding among a larger group and that the bill "soft-pedals the racial dimension of unequal medical treatment and creates a dangerous precedent for health policy," according to the Times-Picayune. "To suggest that all populations need this type of specific initiative to level the playing field is just to ignore hundreds of years of history and the true current situation," Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), head of the Congressional Black Caucus task force on health, said. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), said, "We think there are some important differences between the underserved minority community and other underserved populations, such as poor whites. ... What Frist is doing glosses over the depth of the problems in minority communities." A Frist aide called such criticism "election-year maneuvering," adding that the legislation has the support of a number of minority groups, including the National Urban League, the National Hispanic Medical Association and the National Medical Association, which represents black doctors (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.