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Public Statements

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on National Asthma Awareness Month


Location: Washington, DC

It has been over 30 years since asthma emerged as a growing public health threat. During this time, we have made important progress through clinical, environmental and community health interventions. May is National Asthma Awareness Month, a time for us to renew our dedication to improving health outcomes for the 26 million Americans living with asthma, including 7.1 million children. It is also a time to call attention to where we can and must do more.

The persistent nature of this disease creates a tremendous socioeconomic burden. Medical expenses associated with asthma are estimated at more than $50 billion a year. Because of asthma, children miss more than 10 million days of school and adults miss 14 million days of work each year.

Although asthma cannot be cured, people can manage their symptoms, reduce the frequency of asthma attacks, and lead active lives. Successful management includes knowing the warning signs of an asthma attack, avoiding environmental triggers, following the advice of your health care provider, and developing a written asthma action plan.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Americans with asthma who already have insurance will have better and more secure coverage than ever before. Because of the law, insurance companies can no longer deny children coverage just because they have asthma, and, starting in 2014, no one may be denied coverage or charged more because of asthma or any other pre-existing condition. The law also makes it illegal for insurance companies to put a lifetime dollar limit on most health benefits and phases out annual dollar limits--doing away with them entirely starting in 2014.

But the law also helps millions more Americans get the coverage they need and deserve. After all, it can be tough to get asthma medication when you don't have insurance coverage. Starting October 1, 2013, millions of Americans will be able to sign up with the new Health Insurance Marketplace to compare and choose quality coverage that meets their needs and budget. Coverage begins in January 2014.

Although our nation has seen advances in treatment and interventions for many suffering from this respiratory ailment, for low-income and minority children and their families who bear the greatest burden of this condition, we still have more work to do. For example, African-American children are twice more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than white children and are four times more likely to die from asthma. Addressing health disparities is a top federal priority, which HHS is working to implement in a number of ways.

The 2012 release of the Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities highlights this commitment to reduction in health disparities. HHS and our partner agencies are actively implementing the plan's recommendations to improve asthma care for communities of color and other underserved communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides funds to 36 states and territories nationwide, to work with communities and schools to develop tools that make environments healthier for all children, but especially for children with asthma. In California, schools have won California Breathing's Achievements in Respiratory Health Awards, by enforcing policies that improve air quality, such as stopping bus idling near schools and using non-toxic cleaning and school supplies.

The National Institutes of Health has undertaken several research studies to help expand our understanding of the causes of asthma and how to improve treatments. For example, the recently launched Consortium on Asthma among African-ancestry Populations in the Americas aims to identify genes that drive asthma disparities. Additionally, the Inner-city Asthma Consortium implements immune-based therapies for asthma and conducts studies to define and treat the disease in inner-city children.

During National Asthma Awareness Month, join us in making the environment healthier for children and adults with asthma. Help us let uninsured Americans know they'll soon have more options for insurance coverage so they can breathe a bit easier. Learn what you and your community can do to reduce the physical, social, and financial costs of asthma.

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