How is President Biden closing the gap on health disparities for communities of color?

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April is Minority Health Month, a time to acknowledge and raise awareness about health disparities among historically disadvantaged minority populations in our country — and what President Biden is doing to close the gap. During this time, I'm taking a moment to reflect on the progress we've made to improve access to health care for communities of color.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Region 3 Director covering the Mid-Atlantic states, I represent communities with some of the highest uninsured rates and highest rates of chronic health conditions, especially among Black and Latino Americans. Throughout my travels in Region 3, the message I heard loud and clear from seniors on Medicare was the need reduce the cost of essential drugs. The Inflation Reduction Act helps people afford their treatment and improve their overall health outcomes.

This is great news! And that's why I'm working every day to implement President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, to improve access to health care, lower prescription drug costs, and reduce health disparities among people with Medicare.

While this observance may come once a year, this Administration has made it a priority every day to put equity at the center of all our work. While we are taking great strides to improve access to health for all Americans, it's important to recognize that disparities persist — due to the structural and systemic discrimination that has been built into our health system, making it harder for many people of color and minority groups to access and afford health care. The president's historic prescription drug law is lowering health care costs across the board for American families, including seniors and people with disabilities with Medicare.

One of the most important parts of the Inflation Reduction Act is also one of the most significant to Black and Latino beneficiaries with Medicare; the law capped the cost of each covered insulin product at $35 per month's supply. This benefit will enable seniors to keep money they used to use to pay for prescriptions in their pockets. In 2020, about 158,000 Black enrollees would have benefited from the law's $35 insulin cap and in 2021, about 266,000 enrollees would not have any out-of-pocket costs for recommended Part D covered adult vaccines.

Longstanding structural barriers due to racism and discrimination have affected the ability of many people of color to have health insurance, access to a regular source of health care, access to healthy foods, and many other factors that have led to higher rates of diabetes and other chronic conditions. Due to these systemic barriers, Black, Latino, and Asian Medicare enrollees have higher rates of diabetes compared to white Medicare enrollees. (39%, 37%, and 35% versus 24%, respectively). Black, Latino and Asian Medicare enrollees also report more difficulty affording their prescriptions than their white counterparts. Capping the cost of insulin provides not only financial relief, but peace of mind to many families who may be struggling to afford this medication.

Additionally, the law is capped out-of-pocket drug costs to make sure that all prescription drugs are affordable for those who need them. This year, certain people with Medicare with high prescription drug costs will now see some relief by no longer paying anything out-of-pocket once they hit about $3,500 in 2024. That kind of savings can be life-changing for seniors.

Next year, even more people will enjoy further cost reductions. Medicare enrollees will benefit from a flat $2,000 out-of-pocket cap on all Medicare Part D prescription drug costs. That can mean saving thousands of dollars, a life-changing amount for many seniors and people with disabilities who are currently struggling to afford their medication.

More needs to be done to reduce racial health disparities in this country. I've dedicated much of my time as HHS Regional Director to promote health equity in our region. Thanks to President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, we're seeing real progress. More people have affordable health coverage today than ever before, and we are tackling the skyrocketing cost of prescriptions drugs at every angle — making it easier for people of color and others who have historically faced significant barriers to health care to get the life-saving medication and care they need.

Melissa Herd is the Region 3 director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Biden's Inflation Reduction Act helps bridge racial health disparities