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Abstract Persistent disparities in health status and outcomes for
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Nurses: Leading to Reduce Health Disparities in an Era of
Healthcare Reform
Mekeshia Bates, DNP, MPH, RN
Louise Aurelien, EdD, MS, ARNP, NP-C
Janice Phillips, PhD, RN, FAAN
Abstract
Persistent disparities in health status and outcomes for
racial/ethnic minority populations are well documented.
African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by a number of conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease,
diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and inadequate mental healthcare. The
2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains provisions to reduce
health disparities. These provisions aim to improve the quality of care, reduce costs, increase access to care, strengthen the
health-care workforce, and make health coverage more obtainable. Thus, the objectives of this paper are to describe key
elements outlined in the ACA aimed at reducing health disparities and identify implications for nurses to lead in the reduction
of health-care disparities through practice, education, research,
and advocacy. Nurses at all levels of practice and education are
encouraged to intensify their advocacy and legislative efforts
to help ensure that key ACA provisions are funded and implemented to improve the overall well-being of underserved
communities.
Key Words: Affordable Care Act, healthcare reform, health
disparities
Introduction
Disparities in health status and health outcomes are well
documented for racial/ethnic minority populations. The
Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000 legally defined health disparities as a
significant disparity in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, and mortality or survival
rates in the population as compared to the health status
of the general population (Minority Health and Health
Disparities Research and Education Act, 2000). For AfricanAmericans, these disparities are more pronounced when
compared with their White counterparts and other
minority populations. The purposes of this paper are to:
(a) provide an overview on health disparities among
African-Americans; (b) highlight key provisions in the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act focused on
eliminating health disparities; and (c) identify implications
for reducing health disparities through education, research,
and patient advocacy.
Prevalence and Incidence of Chronic Disorders
According to the Office of Minority Health (2014), AfricanAmerican adults are 40% more likely to have high blood
pressure than their non-Hispanic White counterparts; however, they are half as likely to have their blood pressure
under control. In addition, African-American males and
females are 30% more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to
die from heart disease. African-Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke compared to Whites; and, in addition,
African-American males are 60% more likely to die from
strokes than White males. In 2009, African-American men
were 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate
cancer than non-Hispanic White males and 2.5 times more
likely to die from prostate cancer in comparison to nonHispanic White men. African-American women are 40%
more likely to die from breast cancer than non-Hispanic
White women, although reports show that breast cancer
deaths are decreasing. Factors contributing to this discrepancy include lack of quality of care and fewer social/
economic resources (Office of Minority Health, 2013).
These inconsistencies in African-American death rates
persisted when chronic health disorders such as diabetes,
HIV/AIDS, and mental health were examined. AfricanAmericans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes
as non-Hispanic Whites. Also, African-Americans are more
likely to have diabetic complications, such as end-stage
renal disease and lower extremity amputations. The Office
of Minority Health (2014) further reports that AfricanAmericans were 2.2 times more likely to die from diabetes
than non-Hispanic Whites. In 2010, although AfricanAmericans comprised 12% of the population, 44% of newly
diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases were in the African-American population (CDC, 2015). According to the 2013 Centers
for Disease Control HIV Surveillance Report, in 2011,
African-Americans were 8.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV when compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
This epidemic is responsible for 7 times more deaths of
African-American men than non-Hispanic White men and
Mekeshia Bates, DNP, MPH, RN, is an Adult Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, The Gift of Dreams Wellness and Consulting, LLC, Chevy Chase, MD.
Louise Aurelien, EdD, MS, ARNP, NP-C, is a Professor of Nursing, Palm Beach State College and Family Nurse Practitioner, Florida Community
Health Centers, Pahokee, FL.
Janice Phillips, PhD, RN, FAAN, is Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, CGFNS International Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Address Requests for Reprints and Correspondence to: Mekeshia Bates, DNP, MPH, MSN, RN, 8639-B 16th Street, Suite 265, Silver Spring, MD
20910. Email: [email protected]
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15 times more African-American female deaths than their
White counterparts.
In examining mental illness, socioeconomic status greatly impacts the mental health status of populations.
Populations that are below the poverty level generally
have more psychological stress than those above the poverty level. In addition, some minorities underutilize mental
health resources, in part, due to lack of knowledge and
the stigma associated with having a mental illness. The
Office of Minority Health (2014) reports that African-Americans are 20% more likely to report having mental distress
than non-Hispanic Whites. The suicide death rate of
African-American men was approximately four times the
rate of African-American women in 2009. However, according to the American Psychiatric Association (2014), the
true disparity in mental health is not the prevalence rate
or the severity of disease but the lack of culturally competent care and the reception of less or poor quality care.
Eliminating health disparities is complex and requires
a comprehensive and sustainable approach involving a
number of stakeholders. Nurses in particular are well positioned to assume leadership in addressing health disparities
by virtue of their proximity to and engagement with
patients, families, and communities. The ultimate goal of
our actions to eliminate health disparities should be to
achieve health equity among diverse underserved and
minority populations.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
On March 21, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law with
the goal of making health insurance coverage more affordable and accessible. Through the reconciliation process,
the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act was
passed by Congress to amend the Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act. The Health Care Reconciliation Act
became law on March 30, 2010. Together, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health
Care and Education Reconciliation Act are known as the
2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Provisions of the law are
designated to be implemented between 2010 and 2018.
The PPACA was designed to ensure that most U.S. citizens and legal residents have access to healthcare. This
goal was accomplished by creating state-based Health
Benefit Exchanges or Health Insurance Marketplaces that
allow individuals to purchase coverage. Individuals/families with income between 133-400% of the federal poverty
level would receive tax credits allowing for a reduced cost.
In addition, Medicaid would expand to 133% of the federal poverty level (the poverty level for a family of three
was $19,530 in 2013) to all Non-Medicare eligible persons
under the age of 65. A more detailed discussion of this historic legislation is located at http://www.healthcare.gov.
Table 1 provides an overview of specific provisions aimed
at eliminating health disparities (See Table 1).
A significant feature of the ACA is the establishment
of the Health Insurance Marketplace or Exchange. On
October 1, 2013, the health-care reform website, http://
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healthcare.gov, provided an opportunity for consumers to
purchase health insurance plans in a competitive market
and based on the individual’s family income. Through the
level of the plan chosen, the person could possibly receive
a tax credit (Burke, Misra, & Sheingold, 2014). The Health
Insurance Marketplace also facilitates comparison shopping so the consumer has a better chance of finding
affordable health plans that are more accommodating
regarding coverage type and price. Over 19,000 qualified
health plans are offered in the Marketplace within the four
metal levels (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum). Coverage through the Marketplaces began in every state on
January 1, 2014, with enrollment opening on October 1,
2013. As of December 2015, 13 states, including Washington, D.C., chose to build State-based Marketplaces, 4 states
have established Federally-supported Marketplaces, 7
states entered into State-Partnership Marketplaces, and
27 states entered into Federally-facilitated Marketplaces
(State Health Insurance Marketplace Types, 2016). On June
30, 2015, about 9.9 million Americans had selected a private health insurance through the Exchange (HHS
Marketplace Effectuated Enrollment Snapshot, 9/8/2015).
Implications for African-Americans
The Affordable Care Act provides new opportunities
for affordable health insurance coverage impacting approximately 6.8 million uninsured African-Americans. The
majority, 4.2 million out of 6.8 million, of uninsured AfricanAmericans may qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health
Insurance Program (CHIP), or lower costs on monthly
premiums through the Marketplace. Furthermore, 7.3 million African-Americans with private insurance now have
access to expanded preventive services with services such
as colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, pap smears and
mammograms for women, well-child visits, and flu shots
for all children and adults. Over 390,000 African-American women in the individual market alone are projected
to gain maternity coverage, which is attributable to the
Affordable Care Act. An estimated 5.1 million AfricanAmerican women with private health insurance now have
guaranteed access to women’s preventive services and 4.5
million elderly and disabled African-Americans will receive
health coverage for diabetes and colorectal cancer screening, bone mass measurement, and mammograms. More
than 500,000 African-American young adults between ages
19 and 25, who would have been uninsured, including
230,000 African-American women, now have coverage
under their parents’ employer-sponsored or individually
purchased health plan (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 2014).
Implications for Nursing Education
Nurses are well positioned to take leadership roles in
addressing health disparities. However, the underrepresentation of racial/ethnic minority nurses in the nursing
workforce persists and represents a substantial challenge
for colleges of nursing. According to the U.S. Census
Bureau (2014), more than one third (37.4%) of the U.S. population in 2013 belonged to racial/ethnic minority groups.
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Table 1. Selected Provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Health Disparities
Provision
Description
Federal Infrastructure to Reduce Health Disparities
Establishes the Office of Minority Health within the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Elevates the National Center of Minority Health and
Health Disparities to institute status.
Establishes six individual Offices of Minority Health
throughout other agencies.
Data Quality, Quality Improvement, and Research
Enhances data collection and reporting to include data
on race, ethnicity, gender, language, disability status,
and other demographics of those living in rural and
frontier areas.
Provides insight into the causes of health disparities and
develops effective programs to eliminate them.
Expanded Access to Care
Effective January 2014, individuals living at 133% of the
federal poverty level ($14,404 for an individual in 2009)
are eligible for Medicaid.
Provides premium credits and cost sharing subsidies to
qualified individuals to assist with health-care costs.
Insurance Regulation
Expands coverage for young adults to remain on their
parents’ insurance unitl the age of 26.
Prohibits denial of insurance coverage to people who
have a pre-existing condition.
Healthcare Workforce and Cultural Competency
Requires workforce diversity data; expands workforce
diversity grants to nurses; provides support for cultural
competency training.
Funding devoted to increasing the providers in underserved areas.
Establishes new programs to support school-based
health centers and nurse-managed health clinics.
Community Health Centers
Provides $11 billion over the next 5 years to expand
access to racial and ethnic minorities. Seeks to double
the number of patients at CHC to 40 million by 2019.
Prevention
Prohibits copayments and deductibles for select preventive services.
Strengthens preventative efforts to improve the nation’s
health through the National Prevention Strategy.
Authorizes a 5-year national oral health campaign with
focus on disparities.
References:
Kaiser Family Foundation. (2014). Focus on Health Care Disparities. Retrieved 6/16/14 from http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/8396.pdf
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2014). Health Disparities and the Affordable Care Act. Retrieved 6/26/14
from http://www.ncsl.org/documents/health/HDandACA.pdf
This figure is non-reflective of the 16.8% of registered nurses (RNs) from all racial/ethnic minority groups (HRSA,
2010). The slow resolution of this unbalanced condition
has negatively affected the U.S. health-care system. One
of the challenges in nursing education is the meager
increase of the percentage of minority nurse faculty from
9.1% in 2003 to 12.3% in 2013 (ACN, 2013). Pipeline problems and racism in academia (Hassouneh & Lutz, 2013) are
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identified as the two main barriers to the unequal representation of minority faculty in academia. The ACA
addresses the pipeline issue by providing nursing education funding through loan repayment programs and grants
to nurses who wish to pursue advanced degrees (a Masters or a Doctorate) to become nurse educators, researchers,
or advanced practice nurses and work in underserved
areas (ACA, 2010 Title V, Sections 5202, 5308, 5310, 5311).
In addition, the ACA includes provisions for investing in
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and
Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and for establishing
new programs to support nurse-managed health clinics
where a large percentage of minority and underserved
populations receive healthcare (Health Education and Reconciliation Act, 2010, Sections 2104 and 2303).
The 2013 National League for Nursing NLN Data
Review TM , showed a 2.1% decline in the enrollment of
racial/ethnic minority nursing students (from 28.2% in 2009
to 26.1% in 2012). This drop is alarming as it counteracts
any previous diversity gains in the RN workforce. The ACA
also includes the Nursing Workforce Diversity Program
(Title V, Sec. 5404), which “supports projects that assist
underrepresented students throughout the educational
pipeline to become registered nurses.” The latter provision
will improve quality and equity of access to healthcare and
reduce health disparities in minority populations.
These provisions are synergistic with recommendations
outlined in the 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report:
The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,
which affirms that: “Nurses should achieve higher levels
of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression”
(IOM, 2010). Nurse educators and clinicians have an enormous obligation to support and partake in the preparation,
integration, transition, and growth of racial/ethnic minority registered nurses. Nursing programs must take
advantage of the new provisions in the ACA and apply for
funding to increase enrollment, retention, and graduation
rates of racial/ethnic minority students in order to
compensate for the persistent underrepresentation. Consequently, “ensuring equal representation of racial/ethnic
minority in the RN workforce is not simply a matter of
‘equal opportunity’ but one of responsiveness to a fundamental responsibility to reduce healthcare disparities
among racial/ethnic minority groups, and subsequently
improve the healthcare of the nation” (Aurelien, 2011).
provisions of the ACA aimed at eliminating health disparities. Examples of potential research questions can include:
1. What are the lived experiences of African-Americans
enrolled in health insurance exchanges?
2. What are the facilitators and barriers of minority populations seeking expanded access to healthcare services?
3. What is the impact of nurse managed clinics in addressing health disparities?
Nurse researchers are encouraged to tap into the research
opportunities provided by the Patient Centered Outcomes
Research Institute referred to as PCORI. PCORI was established as part of the ACA to fund research that will aid
patients, caregivers, clinicians, and others in making
informed health decisions. PCORI encourages input from
a number of stakeholders, including nurses, when shaping their research agenda (Barksdale, Newhouse, & Miller,
2014). Specific to health disparities, PCORI has established
an advisory panel to help shape, implement, and evaluate its research agenda for eliminating health disparities.
In addition, periodically, PCORI will issue a call for
panel applications, research funding opportunities, and
stakeholder input on a number of PCORI initiatives
(Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, 2014)
Implications for Advocacy and Political Activism
Implications for Nursing Research
Disparities in health and healthcare for minority populations have been perpetuated for centuries. Numerous
provisions in the ACA promise to reduce if not eliminate
these burdens by improving access to healthcare. It may
take decades for minority populations in the United States
to experience health parity. Persistent advocacy and political activism by African-American nurses is necessary to
promote and revise health policies so as to gradually
achieve positive health outcomes for minority populations. Although the ACA is an intricate piece of legislation,
it is imperative that nurses take on a proactive attitude
and become very familiar with it, especially the provisions
that have greater impact on their scope of practice and
delivery of care. The undertaking of advocacy and legislative efforts requires certain essential skills such as
excellent communication, problem solving, persuasion,
and teamwork, especially in relation to the controversy
to fund ACA programs. Therefore, nurses must join forces
and remain vigilant in advocating for funding to ensure
full-scale implementation of the ACA that will aid in closing the health disparity gaps for minority populations.
Nurses have made substantial contributions to advancing our knowledge about health disparities through their
independent and collaborative research activities. While
these findings have provided invaluable answers, there
remains a plethora of questions that necessitate further
exploration. Now, nursing has an unprecedented opportunity to continue to advance this body of knowledge by
creating a research agenda that addresses key concerns
during this era of health reform. African-American nurses, in particular, must seize the opportunity to conduct
independent and collaborative research that addresses
Funding allocations for certain initiatives have been very
limited. For example, Nurse Managed Health Clinics
(NMHCs) (HRSA, 2010) received a total of $15 million
dollars from September 2010 to September 2013 and the
grantees were to self-sustain in subsequent years. Likewise, the 2010 IOM’s report (2010) on The Future of Nursing
states: “Nurse managed health clinics offer opportunities
to expand access; provide quality, evidence based care;
and improve outcomes for individuals who may not otherwise receive needed care. These clinics also provide the
necessary support to engage individuals in wellness and
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prevention activities.” Engaging in collective actions and
armed with data to educate legislators on the benefits of
certain programs and the impact of health disparities on
the nation, may hopefully influence their decisions on
funding appropriations. African-American nurses must
enter into discussions regarding the financial impact on
underserved populations who reside in states where legislators have opted not to accept federal funding for
Medicaid expansion. Although the effects of such decisions are not yet fully understood, constant monitoring
of such decisions and related consequences may provide
evidence in the future for reconsideration.
Conclusions
This paper has provided an overview of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with a specific emphasis
on implications for eliminating health disparities among
African-Americans. African-American nurses, in concert
with other stakeholders, must continue to advocate for
access to high quality healthcare for all minority and underserved populations. Advocacy efforts devoted to ensuring
appropriate funding to support a culturally diverse nursing workforce that is uniquely qualified to meet the needs
of minority populations cannot be overemphasized. Akin
to the need for a culturally diverse nursing workforce is
the need for culturally aligned independent and collaborative research that will address the unanswered questions
about health disparities, and ultimately, health equity. The
African proverb, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up
a lion,” is quite appropriate, as it will take the collective
efforts of many to achieve our dream of better healthcare
and health outcomes for all. As African-American nurses, we must continue to assume our rightful place and
build the necessary partnerships to do so.
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