Health Disparities Support Need for Reform


Racial and ethnic minorities have higher rates of disease and reduced access to health care compared with the general population, according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services.

African Americans, for example, suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes at nearly twice the rate of whites. About 15% of African Americans, 14% of Hispanics, and 18% of American Indians have type 2 diabetes, compared with 8% of whites, according to the report.

Racial and ethnic minorities and low income individuals also have reduced access to health care. For example, the report found that Hispanics are only half as likely as whites to have a usual source of medical care. Racial and ethnic minorities were also less likely to lack health insurance.

These disparities highlight the need for larger health reform that invests in prevention and wellness and ensures access to affordable health care, the report concluded. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius repeated that message during a roundtable discussion at the White House.

“Certainly the kind of disparities we've seen too often in the health care system are disproportionately represented by low income Americans and minority Americans,” she said. “Health reform is key to helping to address these challenges.”

But new health reform legislation will be only one part of the administration's push to reduce health disparities, Ms. Sebelius said. She pledged to do whatever possible under the current authority given to HHS to close the gap on disparities, including working within the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

The roundtable event included representatives from various minority and public health groups who offered their suggestions for how health reform legislation could help to close the gap on disparities.

While nearly all expressed their eagerness to help get a health reform bill passed this year, many cautioned the administration that health coverage alone does not equal meaningful access. Other critical elements that are needed to help improve the equity of health care include a greater investment in prevention, more data collection to identify disparities, and access to more culturally competent care, the representatives said.

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