WASHINGTON (AP) -- Black, Latino and Asian lawmakers warned Democratic leaders that any health care overhaul that ignores health gaps between whites and minorities will face stiff opposition.
The lawmakers said they could support a new program that improves access to health care for all Americans.
"The public health option has to be there," Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said at a news conference. "If we don't have a public option, there's no discussion."
Republicans are resisting a government health insurance program that would compete with private insurance companies, arguing that the companies would be put at a competitive disadvantage.
Members of the Asian caucus, along with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said they plan to introduce legislation this week that includes their wish list for broadening health care overhaul beyond various plans floated in the House and Senate.
Citing federal research showing higher rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality among minorities, they said they would seek more funds for community health centers that provide care in poor neighborhoods.
The lawmakers also called for expanding a National Institutes of Health center that focuses on minority health concerns, works to improve work force diversity in the medical industry and collects more data to better track disparities in health care.
They said the costs of reaching into low-income, minority communities to improve upfront health care would be more than offset in the long run by preventing expensive procedures and hospital stays.
"Believe me, a comprehensive health care reform bill without the aspects that we're discussing today will be set for failure," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a New York Democrat who chairs the Hispanic caucus.