The Burden of “Non-Communicable Diseases” in Communities of Color
“Non-communicable diseases” (NCDs) is a key buzz phrase in public health today. Even the United Nations has the term on its mind, as it recently held a historic high-level meeting to develop a plan of action to fight NCDs. But what exactly does it mean?
“Non-communicable diseases” are chronic illnesses that you can’t “catch” from someone else, the major ones being cancer, diabetes, lung disease, and heart disease. They are a lethal quartet. According to a report by the World Health Organization, NCDs are currently responsible for 63 percent of deaths worldwide and a whopping 87 percent of deaths in the United States (that’s more than 4 out of 5!), making NCDs the leading cause of death in America.
In some communities of color, this lethal quartet is particularly harmful. Blacks and Latinos have a higher risk of developing NCDs, and they are more likely to suffer bad outcomes. For example, when compared to white adults, Latino adults are 55 percent more likely to have diabetes and 50 percent more likely to die as a result. Additionally, blacks have a 35 percent higher chance of having asthma, and they are three times more likely to die from the condition.
The good news is that most cases of NCDs can be prevented or treated through regular, ongoing health care. The bad news is that members of black and Latino communities in the U.S. are more likely to be uninsured and unable to afford the care they need for these chronic diseases. Last year, more than one fifth of African Americans and nearly one third of Hispanics did not have health insurance.
A recent report released by Families USA and several partners explains that, if it weren’t for Medicaid, the prospects for people of color with NCDs would be even more bleak. Medicaid: A Lifeline for Blacks and Latinos with Serious Health Care Needs provides state-level estimates of how many blacks and Latinos have these conditions and how many of them rely on Medicaid for their care.
This report found that, for millions of blacks and Latinos with NCDs in America, Medicaid is the lifeline that connects them to the life-saving treatment they need. For one in four Latinos with cancer, Medicaid provides access to chemotherapy treatments. For nearly 1.9 million blacks with heart disease or stroke, Medicaid gives them the medications they need to control their high blood pressure. For these Americans, Medicaid means access to a regular source of primary care, fewer visits to the emergency room, and, most importantly, a lower risk of premature death.
Because of the disproportionately high number of blacks and Latinos with NCDs who rely on the program, cuts to Medicaid would mean an especially devastating impact on people in these communities. This would in turn impact our entire nation by putting more people in debt and decreasing worker productivity, among other things. The access to health care that Medicaid provides is essential not only because it gives blacks, Latinos, and other Americans with chronic diseases the opportunity to lead healthier lives, but also because it is crucial to our national battle against NCDs.