HHS Secretary Sebelius to Tackle Health Care Disparities at National Hispanic Medical Association Conference April 26-29 in Washington

Apr 25, 2012, 10:15 ET from National Hispanic Medical Association

Where Are All the Hispanic Doctors?

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- HHS Secretary Kathleen G. Sebelius will address health care reform and tackle a first-of-its-kind action plan to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in health care, a longstanding mission of the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), when she speaks April 27 before Hispanic physicians during their national conference in Washington.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius will give the opening keynote address at 1 p.m. Friday, April 27, at NHMA's 16th annual conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Rd. NW, Washington, DC 20008. Hispanic doctors from all over the nation will meet at the event April 26-29 to address "Innovations that Improve the Health of Hispanics, Families and Communities."

"We are honored to have Secretary Sebelius at our conference, and we as doctors see President Obama's Affordable Care Act as the most transformative health care law in our generation since Medicare and Medicaid," said Dr. Elena V. Rios, president of NHMA, which represents 45,000 Hispanic physicians in the U.S. "Secretary Sebelius' vision of a country free of disparities in health and health care is at the core of NHMA's vision."

Racial and ethnic minorities constitute about one-third of the U.S. population but make up more than half of the 50 million people uninsured. That disparity is even greater among Hispanics, who made up about 16 percent of the U.S. population – yet nearly 31 percent of Latinos are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act, the landmark law President Obama signed last year, will bring insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans.

Secretary Sebelius has said everyone should have the opportunity to reach their full potential for health. But that is far from the reality for people who live and work in low socioeconomic circumstances, which disproportionately include racial and ethnic minorities. They often have less access to healthy lifestyle options and suffer higher rates of disease and mortality vs. their higher-income counterparts.

The goals of the HHS Strategic Plan for fiscal 2010-15 provide the framework for the HHS Disparities Action Plan.

Of particular concern are health disparities in the childhood obesity epidemic, an alarming problem with dire consequences for families and society. NHMA and its doctor-members are especially concerned because 20 percent of U.S. students in K-12 are Hispanic, a figure that is rapidly rising.

"This is the first generation where children are dying before their parents," said Rios. "We need to reach children when they are young and forming lifelong habits so we can direct them to healthy choices – to fruits and vegetables and outdoor play and exercise. We need to ingrain those healthy habits in families, so parents, educators, and child care workers will think about nutrition and exercise for children."

As a result, NHMA's National Hispanic Health Foundation has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to tackle childhood obesity and design an early childhood program. They are helping Hispanic doctors who are working to develop recommendations to policymakers in California and New York in early 2013.

In addition, NHMA has embraced First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative with the goal of eliminating childhood obesity within a generation.

These innovations improve our nation's health with a two-pronged approach: today's challenges create tomorrow's opportunities. That's why NHMA wants Congress to reconsider its proposal to eliminate the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP), which recruits minorities into the health professions.

"This program has helped a generation of Hispanics and other minorities realize their dream to be doctors and nurses in their communities," said Rios.  "Without this program, which has existed since the 1960s, the ethnic diversity of doctors and nurses in our country will suffer. Why is this a concern? Because Hispanic patients tend to seek out Hispanic doctors or not go at all."

The American Association of Medical Colleges reports that, in 2008, Hispanics made up 16 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for less than 6 percent of all physicians. There are about 3,000 Latino patients per 1 Latino doctor – vs. 335 patients to 1 doctor for non-Latinos.

Also speaking at 1 p.m. Friday during the opening session on "U.S. and Mexican Leadership & Innovation for Hispanic Community Health and Well-Being" are Mexico's Minister of Health Salomon Chertorivski Woldenberg; Hilda Davila, General Director, International Relations, Ministry of Health of Mexico; and Maria Teresa Cerqueira, Ph.D., Chief, U.S. Mexico Border Field Office, of the Pan American Health Organization.

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center will talk. 

The 17th U.S. Surgeon General (2002-2006) – Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS – will be a guest at a luncheon plenary on "Prevention of Obesity" 12:45 p.m. -2 p.m. Saturday, April 28.

In addition, Farris Timimi, MD, Medical Director, Mayo Clinic Center, will discuss "Using Social Media to Change Health Behavior Among Hispanics."

For a complete conference agenda, visit: http://bit.ly/JpAA6I

Established in 1994 in Washington, D.C., the National Hispanic Medical Association is a nonprofit association representing Hispanic physicians. The NHMA mission is to empower Hispanic physicians to improve the health of Hispanics in collaboration with public and private partners. For more information, go nhmamd.org.

SOURCE National Hispanic Medical Association