June 17, 2005

The Patient Navigator Act of 2005 Passes in the House of Representatives

On Monday, the House of Representatives took a significant step towards helping eliminate health disparities along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines in this country. Hispanics and African Americans are least likely to access the health care system early, when many serious health problems can be cured with simple remedies, and thus are more likely to die from certain cancers and chronic diseases. The Patient Navigator, Outreach, and Chronic Disease Prevention Act of 2005 (H.R. 1812), passed by the House of Representatives on Monday, will increase prevention screening in minority and underserved communities, and thus help close the disparity in health outcomes experienced by these populations.

This bill will help increase access to prevention screening and treatment, and that ensures that everyone will have an advocate at their side, helping them navigate through today’s complicated health care system, no matter their race or socioeconomic status. Currently, 1 in 5 Latinos go without needed care because their doctor doesn’t speak Spanish or they don’t have an interpreter. Hispanics and African Americans are much more likely to not have a regular doctor than whites (46% of Hispanics do not have a regular doctor and 39% of African Americans do not). Diabetes rates for Hispanics are about twice as high as for non-Hispanic whites. Hispanic women are less likely than white or African American women to have preventive health exams. About half of Hispanic women have not had a physical exam, blood cholesterol test, or clinical breast exam in the past year.

The Patient Navigator bill will create an outreach program through the Community Health Centers at HRSA, the Office of Rural Health Policy, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the Indian Health Service. It focuses on outreach and prevention by providing patient navigator services and outreach in health disparity communities to encourage people to get screened early so that they can receive the care they need. Patient navigators educate and empower patients, serving as their advocates in navigating the health care system. Patients would pay according to their ability to pay (based on a sliding fee schedule), just as they do when they receive care at a Community Health Center today.

This is not a new concept. It has been demonstrated by Dr. Freeman at Harlem Hospital in New York, Dr. Huerta at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and Dr. Friedell in Kentucky. These programs have shown significant progress in getting people in for prevention screening much earlier than they would have otherwise. Without this focus on prevention, many people would have simply waited to see a doctor until after symptoms appeared, limiting their chances of early diagnosis and treatment.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this legislation will help minority families stay healthy. By helping individuals find their way through the complicated and sometimes perilous health care system, the Patient Navigator Act will make healthier families a reality in America. The outreach is conducted in a language they understand and by a provider that understands their culture, so patients feel comfortable going to see the doctor. Once they are in the office, the patient navigator helps them understand the health care system, assists them in making appointments for referrals, follows-up to make sure the appointments are kept, and if needed, accompanies the patient to appointments to make sure they understand their diagnosis and instructions from providers. The navigator also refers patients to public health insurance programs they might be eligible, and assists patients with any health insurance paperwork they may have. Helping minority and underprivileged families navigate the health system is a priority for America, and the Patient Navigator Act will help make for a healthier America for everyone.

Presented by the Latino Leadership Link.

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