Jeanette Contreras portrait

¿Buscando cobertura médica? Healthcare.gov open enrollment begins November 1

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras with contributions by NCL Intern Grace Mills

The 2022 open enrollment period for the Health Insurance Marketplace is about to begin! Consumers can enroll in a health plan on Healthcare.gov beginning November 1.

As we commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, the National Consumers League (NCL) wants Latino consumers to better understand their health coverage options through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Latinos make up approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population and represent the largest minority population (62.1 million). However, it is concerning that 22 percent of non-elderly Latinos are uninsured – the highest uninsured rate of any racial group in the United States.

Under the American Rescue Plan, more consumers are now eligible for increased tax credits that further reduce the cost of monthly premiums. An estimated 69 percent of uninsured Latino adults can access a zero-premium plan and 80 percent can access a plan that costs less than $50 a month. Additionally, consumers can use the Healthcare.gov platform to find out if they or their dependents can qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Here is what you need to know to make sure that you and your loved ones are insured during 2022.

  • The open enrollment period starts on November 1, 2021, and runs through January 15, 2022. In order for your coverage to start on January 1, you must enroll by December 15, 2021.
  • Your income will determine what you will pay for your health coverage plan.
  • Applications will be accepted online, by calling 1-800-318-2596, or through a certified enrollment partner. Learn more about the different ways to apply.

This year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued $80 million in grants to fund Health Care Navigators across the country that are trained and certified to assist consumers with enrolling in a health plan. While agents and brokers are also available, Navigator Grantees are often a trusted source of information in their communities and can offer culturally competent enrollment assistance. Consumers can find local in-person assistance or an agent/broker in their area by clicking here.

¿Buscando cobertura médica? La inscripción abierta de Cuidadodesalud.gov empieza el 1 de noviembre

¡La inscripción abierta para el Mercado de Seguros Médicos por el año 2022 empezará muy pronto! Los consumidores pueden inscribirse en un plan de salud por medio de CuidadoDeSalud.gov empezando el 1 de noviembre.

Para conmemorar el Mes de la Herencia Hispana, la Liga Nacional de Consumidores (“NCL” por sus siglas en inglés) desea que los consumidores latinos conozcan sus opciones de cobertura de salud a través de los Mercados de Seguros Médicos. Los latinos constituyen el 18% de la población de los Estados Unidos y representan la población de minorías más grande (de 62.1 millones). Sin embargo, nos preocupa que solamente el 22% de los Latinos adultos (que no son mayores) no tienen cobertura de salud y representan la tasa más alta sin seguro médico de todos los grupos raciales en EE. UU.

Bajo el Plan de Rescate Americano (conocido como “American Rescue Plan” en inglés), más consumidores están elegibles por los créditos fiscales que reducen el costo de sus pagos mensuales. Aproximadamente, el 69% de los Latinos (no asegurados} pueden acceder a un plan sin costo alguno y el 80% pueden acceder a un plan que cueste menos de $50 por mes. Además, los consumidores pueden usar la plataforma CuidadoDeSalud.gov para ver si ellos o sus dependientes califican para Medicaid o el Programa de Seguro de Salud Para Niños (conocido como “CHIP” por sus siglas en ingles). Aquí está lo que necesitan saber para que usted y sus seres queridos tengan cobertura médica durante el 2022.

  1. El período de inscripción empieza el 1 de noviembre del 2021 hasta el 15 de enero del 2022. Para tener cobertura empezando el 1 de enero del 2022, necesitas inscribirte para el 15 de diciembre del 2021.
  2. Lo que tú pagarías por un plan de cobertura médica dependerá de tu ingreso anual.
  3. Se aceptarán solicitudes: En-línea, llamando al 1-800-318-2596, o cualquier sitio web de inscripción, que esté certificado. Para obtener más información sobre las diferentes formas de como inscribirse use este enlace: https://www.cuidadodesalud.gov/es/apply-and-enroll/how-to-apply/

Este año, Los Centros de Servicios de Medicare y Medicaid ha dado un subsidio de $80 millones para financiar los navegadores de salud a través del país que están calificados y certificados para ayudar con la inscripción en un plan de salud. Mientras que los agentes y corredores también están disponibles, los navegadores son una fuente de información en las comunidades latinas y ofrecen a sus comunidades asistencia confiada sobre la inscripción. Los consumidores pueden encontrar asistencia en persona o con un agente/corredor en donde viven, usando el enlace: https://ayudalocal.cuidadodesalud.gov/es/#/

NCL offers support for Star Rating for Biosimilars Act, H.R. 2855

October 13, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org or (724) 799-5392

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is pleased to support the Star Rating for Biosimilars Act, as introduced by Representatives Paul D. Tonko (D-NY) and Bob Gibbs (R-OH). NCL believes that implementing a rating system for biosimilars would incentivize insurers to provide lower cost drug alternatives and alleviate the financial burdens on patients.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) currently has a star ratings system for insurance plans under Medicare Advantage and Part D. The quality measures capture items such as clinical quality, beneficiary satisfaction, patient outcomes, and regulatory compliance. This rating system helps the CMS evaluate which plans to keep and discontinue. To date, we do not have a comparable rating system where biosimilars are concerned. “Biosimilars are on average 30 percent cheaper than their biologic counterparts, yet many existing barriers in our current healthcare plans prevent patients from accessing these cost-saving medicines,” said NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras.

The Star Ratings for Biosimilars Act would require the CMS to put in place a five-star performance rating system for biosimilar products under Medicare Advantage Plans. For each plan, the ratings will be based on quality measures meant to evaluate the level of access that each insurance plan provides to biosimilars, such as whether a biosimilar is on the formulary, and the percentage of enrollees prescribed a biosimilar when its biologic counterpart is available. Aside from Advantage Plans, the bill would also require the CMS to incorporate these measures into a similar rating system for plans under the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

The NCL believes in transparency as a core function of informed decision-making. Knowing whether cost saving biosimilars would be available to enrollees under various Medicare (including the Medicare Advantage plans) and Part D plans would bring in more transparency to help consumers be more informed when selecting a plan. “Allowing consumers to see which plans are offering access to lower cost biosimilars would also incentivize Medicare plans to increase patient access to biosimilars,” said Contreras. We encourage Congress to pass the Star Rating for Biosimilars Act in order to broaden access to and encourage increased provision of cost-saving biosimilars.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL supports the Helping Adults Protect Immunity (HAPI) Act

September 30, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is pleased to support the Helping Adults Protect Immunity (HAPI) Act (H.R. 8725/S.581), introduced by Representative Darren Soto (D-FL) in the House and by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the Senate. The bill would expand access to immunizations for adults by eliminating cost-sharing for vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

“Throughout its rich history, NCL has advocated for increased access to vaccines as life-saving medical interventions. The HAPI Act is common sense legislation that would help to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for all vaccines recommended by the ACIP,” said NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras. This legislation would apply to crucial immunizations such as Shingles and tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccines, along with future vaccines.

NCL is grateful for the important role of the ACIP to make recommendations using evidence-based research methods, examining the harm-benefit ratio, and understanding the values of the affected populations. Currently, all ACIP and CDC recommended vaccines are covered with no out-of-pocket costs under private insurance, Medicare Part B, and ACA Medicaid Expansion. Unfortunately, traditional Medicaid beneficiaries must often pay varying out-of-pocket costs for recommended vaccines depending on the state.

More than 50,000 adults in the United States die annually from vaccine preventable deaths. The HAPI Act would help to lower that number significantly by providing more vaccine access to Medicaid beneficiaries, our most vulnerable low-income populations. “No one should be unable to obtain a vaccine due to cost barriers. We can ensure that all Americans are protected against preventable diseases regardless of their state of residence or their ability to pay,” said Contreras.

NCL urges Congress to pass the HAPI Act to ensure Medicaid beneficiaries across the country have  equitable access to recommended vaccines across lifespan.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL stands behind CDC COVID-19 booster recommendations

September 29, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the coordinated efforts of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to approve the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster. As the Delta variant continues to cause more breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals, it is clear that we need to ensure the protection of our most vulnerable populations.

On September 24, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky went beyond the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) and made the call to recommend the single-dose booster to frontline workers in addition to those groups recommended by ACIP. Walensky’s recommendations are in line with those of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biologic Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), which voted to approve the EUA of the booster shot for individuals older than 65 years of age, individuals at high risk for severe disease, and those with institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19.

“NCL has long advocated for increased access to the vaccine for frontline, essential workers and equitable distribution of the vaccine to populations hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Jeanette Contreras, NCL Director of Health Policy. “The single-dose booster shot is a necessary measure to ensure the safety of those most at risk, and to further mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.” The essential workers who received their Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines early in the pandemic are next in line for the booster shot, recommended at least six months after completion of the primary two-dose series.

“Consumers who were vaccinated with the Moderna or Janssen COVID-19 vaccine are on the edge of their seats,” said Contreras. “In some cases, consumers may want to get a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot even if they’ve had one of the other vaccines. We want consumers to know that there is still not enough data for the FDA to approve mixing the vaccines.” The Administration has signaled that while recommendations for ‘mixing and matching’ vaccines will come later in October, they are working closely with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to get their booster shots approved in the coming days.

Consumers who completed the primary series of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, branded as Comirnaty, now have ready access to the booster shot. Consumers must demonstrate they had their second dose of the vaccine at least 6 months ago and attest to being in the approved high-risk population groups. NCL stands behind the recommendations of the CDC and will continue to ensure that consumers have access to life-saving vaccines.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

National Consumers League applauds decision to ban vaccine misinformation from YouTube

September 29, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded YouTube and its parent company Alphabet for their decision to ban anti-vaccine misinformation from the platform. NCL has been a leading voice in promoting vaccine confidence and pushing online platforms to do more to counter misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines, which has contributed to far too many preventable deaths.

The accounts being removed are known anti-vaccine organizations. Robert F. Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense Fund, one of the most high-profile anti-vaccine organizations in America, was responsible for more than half of the paid advertisements on Facebook in years past. Joseph Mercola, founder of Mercola.com Health Resources, authored an article falsely stating that COVID-19 vaccines released via emergency authorization may cause massive side effects. Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, spearheaded by physician, Sherri Tenpenny, promotes alternative health in lieu of vaccines and authored the book, “Say No to Vaccines: A Resource Guide for All Ages.”

The following statement is attributable to NCL Director of Health Policy: Jeanette Contreras:

“Vaccine hesitancy driven by rampant misinformation online is costing lives every day and prolonging a pandemic that has devastated consumers financially as well as physically. YouTube’s decision to ban anti-vaccine misinformation, while overdue, is nonetheless an important step forward in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL lends support to Bolstering Innovative Options to Save Immediately on Medicines (BIOSIM) Act, H.R. 2815

September 24, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is pleased to support the Bolstering Innovative Options to Save Immediately on Medicines (BIOSIM) Act (H.R. 2815), introduced by Representatives Adam Kizinger (R-IL) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR). NCL believes that expanding the use of biosimilars is a safe and effective option for making prescription drugs more affordable for all.

In the midst of a pandemic, consumers across the country are unable to receive necessary care for many reasons — the most prominent being high costs. Biologics are among the fastest-growing segments of the prescription product market, and costly to the patients who rely on them. What is unique about biologic treatments is that they are directly able to combat the underlying cause of a disease. NCL is committed to educating consumers about the value of biosimilars as alternatives to biologics.

Consumers are largely unaware that similar to generic prescription drugs, biosimilars are the generic equivalent to their biologic counterpart. As with generic prescription drugs, FDA-approved biosimilars have no clinically meaningful differences from their reference biologics. Biosimilars function in the same way as biologics and are subject to the same rigorous testing by the FDA to ensure their safety. The FDA has approved biosimilar medications to treat conditions such as cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and more. Biosimilars can enter the market once the patent protections for brand-name biologics expire, and when multiple options exist on the market, competition drives prices down.

NCL believes that biosimilar treatment options are a great way to ensure that cost is not a factor that inhibits access to care. Currently, Medicare beneficiaries pay 20 percent coinsurance on Part B drugs, which includes both biologics and biosimilars. On average, biosimilars cut the price of biologics by about 30 percent, which provides beneficiaries with significantly lower prices than the biologic alternative. While biologics make up a small percentage of the total number of drugs on the market, and just 2 percent of prescriptions filled, they represent 40 percent of all drug spending.

Currently, Medicare reimburses participating physicians based on the average sales price (ASP) of a drug with an additional 6 percent of the reference price. However, because biosimilars are cheaper than biologics, physicians more often prescribe the higher-priced treatment. NCL supports increasing the reimbursement percentage for biosimilars as a way to incentivize physicians to prescribe biosimilars. The BIOSIM Act would maintain the 6 percent reimbursement for prescribing a biologic and increase the return for prescribing biosimilars to 8 percent for a five-year period.

The BIOSIM Act provides the needed incentives to boost utilization by providers to prescribe biosimilars and makes it cheaper for beneficiaries to receive the care they require. “If enacted, this policy would not only provide significant savings to consumers, it would also drive down Medicare spending overall,” said NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras. “Congress should act on passing the BIOSIM Act in order to increase access to safe and effective biosimilars that provide consumers an affordable alternative to high-cost biologics.”

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL applauds full approval of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

August 24, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for granting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine full licensure approval. The FDA’s gold standard approval is a testament to the remarkable safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Though the vaccine will now be marketed under the name Comirnaty, it will remain free to U.S. residents.

Today’s announcement is a historic victory for science, and a signal that the Moderna vaccine will also receive full licensure approval in the coming weeks. NCL has long-advocated for access to vaccines as life-saving interventions. It is our hope that this news will instill more vaccine confidence in the nation and persuade the vaccine hesitant to get vaccinated.

While the vaccine has been approved for people 16 years of age and older, it remains available under Emergency Use Authorization for children ages 12 to 15. Parents of adolescents can share a collective sigh of relief as they send their kids to school this fall. Already, 45 percent of children ages 12-15 have had at least one dose of the vaccine, but only 32 percent are fully vaccinated. Full approval may help to ease concerns that hesitant parents have about the safety of the vaccine.

The approval of the vaccine will allow more employers to implement vaccine mandates in states where the state legislature has banned these measures. Advocating for workers as well as consumers, NCL supports vaccine mandates that provide paid sick leave, financial incentives, and exemptions for verifiable religious or medical reasons.

Over 200 million Americans have received at least one-dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but we are far from reaching herd immunity.  Only 51.5 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated. The Delta variant now accounts for over 137,000 new cases on average each week and is spreading faster than earlier strains of COVID-19. The only way to end this pandemic and prevent the emergence of further variants is to increase vaccinations. NCL remains committed to increasing vaccine confidence and uptake. We are hopeful today marks a turning point in our fight to end this pandemic.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL supports employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates

August 18, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—As the nation’s pioneering organization advocating on behalf of consumers and workers, the National Consumers League (NCL) supports government and employer mandates requiring vaccination. NCL has long championed vaccine education and access to these lifesaving medical interventions. In recent weeks, it has become evident that employer mandates are effective at nudging reluctant people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As the virus continues to spread and mutate around the globe, we remain concerned for the safety of essential workers, the immunocompromised, and children that are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

Fifty-seven of America’s health care organizations share our concerns, releasing a joint statement calling on all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with California being the first state to implement this mandate. President Joe Biden followed with an announcement that federal workers and contractors will need to show proof of vaccination or be subject to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests. Governors led the way in California, Virginia, and New York requiring state employees to be vaccinated or adhere to similar testing protocols. Private employers can play a key role in increasing vaccinations, providing incentives to employees who get the shot.

NCL believes that all vaccine mandates should be implemented with the consideration that workers will need to receive paid leave to get the vaccine and to potentially recover from side effects resulting from vaccination. The American Rescue Plan Act makes tax credits available to employers to cover the cost of providing paid leave to employees to receive and recover from COVID-19 vaccinations. These tax credits can also be utilized to support employees as they take time off to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. Incentives like hourly bonuses and paid time off rewards are extremely important to hourly workers.

Additionally, mandates should be developed in consultation with labor unions who represent workers. The American Teachers Federation and the AFL-CIO are two labor unions that have publicly stated they are supportive of vaccine requirements for workers. The SEIU 2015, California’s largest caregiver union, released a set of principles to aid employers with implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, encouraging them to make the vaccine accessible either at work or near the workplace.

Companies can legally mandate that all employees re-entering the workplace and new hires be vaccinated for COVID-19, providing exemptions pertaining to religion or disability. Politically motivated laws prohibiting mandates for vaccines only make it harder for public health officials to quell the pandemic, ultimately hurting consumers. Seven states have passed laws prohibiting mandates for vaccines under an emergency use authorization. However, since these bans hinge on FDA licensure approval of the vaccines, they will be nullified once a vaccine is granted full approval.

More than 198 million Americans have safely received the COVID-19 vaccine. Given the remarkable evidence of safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, consumers should rest assured that vaccines are effective measures to protect public health and vital to national efforts in ending the pandemic. Through our education and outreach efforts, NCL will continue to support efforts to vaccinate the nation.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

What’s in that gummy bear could be hazardous to your kid’s health

CBD-infused foods and candies are often packaged and marketed to appeal to children, but buyer beware – there are a number of harmful ingredients that could be in a seemingly harmless gummy bear. Parents, teachers, guardians, and loved ones should know that none of the non-prescription CBD products on the market today – and the false medical claims often used to market these to consumers – have been tested or approved by the FDA.

Intern Spencer Cramer

Redesigning our communities to fight health disparities

Intern Spencer CramerBy Spencer Cramer, NCL Health Policy Intern

Spencer is a student at Brandeis University, where he is studying Politics and Health: Science, Society & Policy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered a better understanding of how a public health emergency can devastate different groups of Americans already negatively impacted by health problems. These health disparities, which are differences in health outcomes based on factors such as race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, are deeply influenced by “social determinants of health.” Social determinants of health are factors in our environments and societies that have a large impact on someone’s health status, independent of their personal choices or lifestyle.

These social factors are the main contributors to health disparities, which represent one of the ugliest faces of inequality in America today. An example of how social determinants of health and health disparities are inextricably linked can be seen in the maternal mortality crisis, where Black women are more than three times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. This disparity can be attributed to institutional racism, lack of access to maternal health services, and the aggregate stress of dealing with discrimination on a daily basis.

Even more illuminating, one of the best predictors of health outcomes is a person’s zip code. In many major U.S. cities, the gap in life expectancy between the highest and lowest zip codes is 20+ years. Similar gaps can be seen between different cities and states. Additionally, it is clear that locations with predominantly low-income populations and many people from racial or ethnic minority groups generally experience worse health outcomes than wealthier, white areas. Geographic location is an excellent predictor of health status for a couple of reasons. Our society still has a tremendous amount of segregation, as people of the same race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic background tend to live near each other. This means that the health inequities facing these groups become disproportionately concentrated in certain neighborhoods.

Another reason for these geographic health disparities is how under-resourced the physical neighborhoods are. Poorer and heavily minority neighborhoods are less likely to have parks, green spaces, quality grocers, and health services, and they are more likely to be afflicted by environmental pollution and other societal abuses. Urban planning has a huge impact on public health. Ensuring that we build our cities to equitably distribute public services and amenities will be a critical strategy in addressing social determinants of health and eliminating health disparities.

One way to create healthier communities for all would be to increase the amount and quality of green spaces like parks or urban forests. A large body of research suggests that urban green spaces provide a wide variety of health benefits to residents ranging from increased opportunities for exercise, cleaner air, and improved mental well-being. Urban trees are proven to be particularly important for removing pollutants and addressing other environmental risks, while improving many different health outcomes. Unfortunately, green spaces, parks, and urban trees are concentrated in whiter, richer, and healthier neighborhoods. Investing in parks and green urban spaces in disadvantaged communities can go a long way towards boosting health outcomes and increasing economic opportunities for those residents.

Perhaps nothing is more important for a community’s health than access to quality, nutritious, and affordable food. Unfortunately, millions of Americans live in food deserts, areas where there is little supply of nutritious, whole foods. Again, food deserts predominate poorer neighborhoods and racial and ethnic minority communities. Living in a food desert means that people cannot access healthy or substantial food at an affordable price, inadvertently resorting to more expensive, lower nutrition food from places like convenience stores. Poor diets driven by this lack of food access cause tons of health problems and are a key driver of health disparities. As a society we often associate diet with personal choice. However, people living in food deserts usually have no option other than to eat low-quality food, and subsequently suffer from the health consequences. Ensuring that all neighborhoods and communities can easily access healthy food at affordable prices will surely help to reduce disparities in areas such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and others. What we eat everyday has an astronomical impact on our health, so we must make equitable access to good food a priority when creating healthier communities.

Similarly, many of the same neighborhoods plagued by food deserts also suffer from a stunning lack of access to health and medical services. Many healthcare resources are concentrated in areas with higher insurance rates, especially places with high rates of private insurance, leaving neighborhoods with many uninsured or Medicaid-eligible residents without needed health providers. The health consequences caused by the uneven distribution of health services can be devastating and can result in the delay in crucial preventive health screenings. To address this, we can provide incentives, like additional funding or student loan forgiveness to health care providers who practice in underserved communities, and implement public policies to achieve an equitable geographic distribution of medical resources.

A final factor that leads to these health inequalities between zip codes is pollution. It is certainly no secret that environmental pollutants are often horribly damaging to human health. They can cause diseases ranging from asthma to cancer, and are devastating for any community that they afflict. And of course, pollution has a disparate impact on lower-income and predominately minority communities. Developers frequently choose to build factories and other waste-producing sites in these communities because their residents have fewer resources and less political and social capital to advocate against them. Nobody should be subjected to residing in the midst of toxins and waste.

This will require a massive shift to clean energy, responsible development, and safer waste disposal. We can create more health equity by eliminating the health costs brought upon poor and minority communities by pollutants. Designing our neighborhoods and cities with a focus on public health and health equity will help to close the gaps in health outcomes between different zip codes, and should be one of our top priorities as we battle health disparities and social inequities.