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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Helping to do away with health disparities

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

Did you know that African Americans are two times more likely to have diabetes than whites? Or that Latina women diagnosed with lung or breast cancer are diagnosed in later stages and have lower survival rates than white women with the same condition?

These alarming statistics are just a few of the racial and ethnic health disparities that are present in our current health care system. A big chunk of inequity can be attributed to sky-high health care costs and lack of access.

When individuals have reliable, consistent access to health care, they have greater access to health monitoring and are more likely to receive screenings, timely diagnoses, and appropriate treatment of chronic diseases and conditions. However, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately more likely than whites to be underinsured or to lack health insurance coverage altogether.

According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

A 2005 study ... found that if disparities had been eliminated in the last century there would have been 83,500 fewer deaths among African-Americans in 2000 alone. This means that in the last decade of the 20th century, there would have been almost 900,000 fewer deaths among African-Americans.

So, how does health reform help eliminate these disparities? For starters, it helps close the coverage gap. Those who previously did not have health insurance will now be able to purchase insurance, and those who can't afford it will be given subsidies. This means that those who have been delaying care or skipping out on preventive services due to cost will now have access to affordable health care.

Now, if a woman finds a lump in her breast, cost shouldn't prevent her from making an appointment. In fact, because of health reform, not only will people have access to affordable health care, but all new group and individual insurance plans will preventive services free of charge-which likely means that instances of preventable diseases will decrease

When people have access to affordable health care, they visit the doctor when they get sick-usually nipping the problem in the bud-rather than waiting until they're in such bad shape that they have to head directly to the emergency room.

With health reform, we can start to work toward a more equitable health system.

Interested in learning more about racial and ethnic health disparities? Stay tuned, we'll be blogging on a variety of topics in the coming months.