June 15, 2016

WASHINGTON – The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) welcomed today’s introduction of the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2016 (HEAA). The bill builds on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and recent health access and quality measures to increase access to affordable, quality health care for all by providing additional tools to eliminate health and health care disparities affecting communities of color and other underserved groups.

Since the HEAA was first introduced in 2007, the Congressional Tri-Caucus – composed of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Congressional Hispanic Caucus – has led its reintroduction in subsequent sessions of Congress. Lead sponsor Rep. Robin Kelly, chair of the CBC Health Braintrust, was joined by her Tri-Caucus counterparts, including CAPAC Health Task Force co-chairs Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Ami Bera, in introducing the current bill.

“We commend Rep. Kelly and the Congressional Tri-Caucus for their leadership and commitment to putting us on a path toward health equity,” said Kathy Ko Chin, APIAHF president and CEO. “As a complement to the historic reforms implemented by the ACA, the HEAA presents a comprehensive and integrated plan to address the spectrum of barriers impeding health equity for communities of color and underserved groups, whether based on economics, geography, immigration status or language spoken. In order to create healthy livelihoods for all people across the country, Congress must act and pass this common sense legislation.”

The HEAA proposes reforms to eliminate inequities in health care access, services and outcomes for communities of color, including: improving data collection and reporting; enhancing culturally and linguistically appropriate health care; increasing health workforce diversity; improving health outcomes for women, children and families; addressing mental health disparities; addressing high-impact minority diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS; and improving social determinants of health and environmental justice.

The reforms would also close gaps in health coverage and access to affordable and culturally and linguistically appropriate care that significantly affect Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The HEAA would remove the archaic five-year bar on coverage for public health programs for lawfully present immigrants. In addition, the bill would restore Medicaid eligibility to migrants from the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, whose nations are part of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the U.S. and whose citizens are free to work and live in the U.S. without restriction. Despite working and bolstering the economic viability of the communities where they live in the U.S., COFA migrants have been ineligible for coverage since 1996 when federal law rendered them ineligible. As a result, they face significant barriers to accessing basic health care.