April is National Minority Health Month, and we are commemorating it with this post on health disparities from the Heartland Alliance blog, Heartbeat. The Affordable Care Act's reforms will make a difference in some of these disparities, such as the focus on expansion of access to primary care, innovations in medical delivery models, increased access to health insurance and the Medicaid expansion.
Health disparities among minority groups account for 30.6% of direct medical expenditures, reflecting the significant toll being African-American, Asian or Hispanic has on one's health and economic well-being.
A study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that between 2003 and 2006 almost a third of health care costs for minorities were due to poorer care compared with whites. Minorities face greater barriers to preventive care, acute treatment and chronic disease management.
Eliminating those disparities would have reduced by $229.4 billion direct medical expenditures by minorities, according to the Joint Center's estimate. Minorities could have saved more than $1 trillion on indirect costs -- such as those associated with illness and premature death -- during the four years studied if disparities didn't exist.
The 2010 National Healthcare Disparities Report found that rates of potentially avoidable hospitalizations for blacks are double those of whites. Blacks and Hispanics have higher rates of potentially avoidable hospitalizations for chronic conditions compared with whites.
Differences in access to care, provider biases, poor provider-patient communication and poor health literacy contribute to health disparities, according to the report. It states:
"Unfortunately, Americans too often do not receive care that they need, or they receive care that causes harms. Care can be delivered too late or without full consideration of a patient's preferences or values. Many times, our system of health care distributes services inefficiently and unevenly across populations."
Quoted in an America's Wire article on health disparities, Jennifer Ng'andu of the National Council of La Raza said minority children are particularly impacted by a lack of access to care. Children "will experience developmental setbacks because they are sick or their parents are sick. It makes it harder for them to achieve in school and can have serious consequences on their future."
Financial strains on families due to health care can hinder children's academic success and, in turn, future earnings. At the same time, minority youth are increasingly affected by chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Hispanics in general have higher rates of high blood pressure and obesity than non-Hispanic whites. They are twice as likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Caring for chronic disease over a lifetime is expensive. With minorities representing more than half of uninsured Americans, the effect on their health and finances can be great. We support efforts to expand access to care -- particularly for preventive services -- to minority communities to eliminate health disparities and the economic costs that come with those disparities.
This article was originally posted on the Heartland Alliance Heartbeat blog.