Tackling health disparities affecting Black Long Islanders


People of color in New York state have a vastly different experience navigating the health care system than their white counterparts. From challenges accessing care and disparate health outcomes to higher death rates and premature deaths, the urgency of this crisis cannot be understated.

Black Americans disproportionately face adverse health outcomes. These inequities are well documented: Black Americans are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and twice as likely to die of the disease. Black adults are 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, increasing their risk for heart disease and stroke. These aren’t just data points — health disparities are a matter of life and death, and we desperately need better health systems to protect Black Americans.

Unfortunately, these patterns are consistent across New York state. Black Long Islanders have the lowest life expectancy of all Long Island residents. Decades of institutional racism and environmental injustice have contributed to these stark inequalities: From proximity to industrial sites, highways and other sources of pollution to economic disparities and lack of access to quality health care, Black Long Islanders face unacceptable barriers to achieving and maintaining good health.

As an Assembly member and the chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, I am continuously advocating for Nassau County’s communities of color that are impacted the most by these inequalities. The state’s fiscal year 2025 budget makes historic investments in health care that ensure that more people have access to quality services. For example, the budget provides $800 million to save our safety-net hospitals and eliminates all copays for insulin. We also secured funding to continue expanding doula access through the new Community Doula Expansion program, which builds on our efforts to prioritize maternal health care in the State Legislature.

These issues are a matter of life or death, and our representatives in Washington must fight to expand access to affordable, quality care for all by overcoming historic inequalities to deliver impactful health care improvements for people of color. Policies like the Affordable Care Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have given millions of New Yorkers health insurance and saved more than 75,000 people hundreds of dollars on insulin with the $35 cap. Yet there are still members of Congress working tirelessly to repeal the ACA and the IRA, slash health funding and revoke access to health care for those who need it most.

I recently met with Long Island health care professionals and community advocates to discuss what they see on the ground. The challenges Black residents face when seeking care are extensive, from missing appointments due to lack of transportation to medical facilities or difficulties accessing medical information. New mothers often lack access to the vital education needed during pregnancy to prepare them as they get closer to giving birth. Unexpected hospital stays lead to job loss and additional stressors among marginalized communities, sometimes dissuading patients from seeking care in the first place.

These challenges are pressing and require our attention, but too many in Congress have turned a blind eye to tackling these health disparities. The improvements that the ACA and the IRA have made to our health care system have created significant savings for seniors and families amid the affordability crisis. If these historic improvements in health care are overturned or weakened, thousands of Long Islanders, including many people of color, would be at risk of losing the security these laws provide them. Without affordable health care, many of our residents would be forced to choose between paying for groceries and paying for their prescriptions.

I’ve long advocated protecting affordable and accessible health care for all New Yorkers, including Black and Brown residents who experience sobering inequities. My responsibility to promote the health and well-being of my constituents drives me to continue to improve health outcomes through sensible policy that enhances quality of life for everyone. The state budget investments, alongside the federal ACA and IRA, are the result of bold decisions that improve health care for millions of New Yorkers.

We can’t turn back the clock and undermine federal and state policies that make a real difference in our fight to combat health disparities and improve health care for all Long Islanders. We must put the needs of our constituents first and promote the health and well-being of all our people, especially those who have been left behind for too long.

Michaelle Solages represents the 22nd Assembly Distric, and chairs the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.