A Conversation with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Sebelius-VIAThis week a little boy was born in London. One day he will grow up to be the King of England. This week a little boy was born in Chicago. Who knows what he will grow up to be. One thing we do know is that the future king’s birth most likely cost half as much as baby boy Chicago.

The state and cost of health care in the USA is why the Affordable Care Act is an important piece of legislation. I am unsure if the cost of health care will go down under Obamacare (I hear it won’t), but we do know that everyone will be mandated to have insurance. This, hopefully, should put health care in the affordable category for most of us. But will it help minimize health disparities in the US? This is what I asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

I was fortunate to have 10 minutes to talk with the Secretary just after she finished addressing BlogHer’s pre-conference attendees.

I specifically wanted to know how Obamacare would address the facts that Latinas are three times more likely than non-Hispanic white females to have teenage pregnancies and 2.3 times as likely to have late or no prenatal care when compared to non-Hispanic white women. Her response was that there are 7 million plus eligible for Obamacare and that will be a big step. She pointed out that prenatal care will be in every package, as will maternity coverage. Maternity care was not guaranteed in current policies and most women did not realize it was not covered until they got pregnant. Her point is that the lack of prenatal care is directly connected to a lack of insurance coverage.

In addition to insurance coverage, Obamacare will be expanding “the footprint” of community health centers. Secretary Sebelius says this will help increase medical care in neighborhoods, thus increasing one’s ability to access health care. She visited one after our conversation. As with increased insurance coverage, the increase in community health centers means that it will be less likely that someone will have to take three buses to get prenatal care.

I circled back to the high rate of teen pregnancies in the Latino community. I made, hopefully she thought a respectful, comment that one reason many people were upset over the Administration’s stance on Plan B was the high teen pregnancy rate. If teens could have access, without ID or prescription, perhaps we could save them from having to make other choices in connection to an unwanted pregnancy. Sebelius said that whether it is Plan B or contraceptive coverage without cost will be a big step forward. She attributes our overall high teen pregnancy rate, as compared to the rest of the world, to the inaccessibility to birth control due to cost. The unfortunate thing about having only 10 minutes is that leaves you having to decide to push back on a question or continue to ask more questions. I decided to keep going…

Next I wanted to know what bloggers and social media users can do to help get the word out about pre-enrollment for Obamacare. Not only is there a website [Spanish | English] we can direct friends, family and neighbors to, but there is a 24/7 call center that can accept calls from people in 151 languages! There will also be person-to-person outreach through partnerships with community organizations. Sounds like there will be ways to help promote Obamacare from our phones or in person to our neighbors.

It was disappointing to hear her discuss insurance coverage as the solution to health disparities. I know it’s a big step forward, but I am not sold that it will address why the average Latina experiences pregnancy in a vastly different way than the average White woman. I do have to agree with her that increased insurance coverage is a big step forward. I am just unsure of how many big steps we need to take to see disparities disappear. If Obamacare is a big step, let’s keep taking more of them!

Veronica Arreola writes the blog Viva la Feminista, where she tries to navigate and understand the intersection between feminism, motherhood and her Latinadad. You can follow her on Twitter @veronicaeye

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