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Dealing with health care disparities

ASK THIS | April 05, 2004

By John Britton

Q. For candidates for office: What level of investment beyond current appropriations are you prepared to make to place a higher priority on finding solutions to diseases and conditions that condemn many minority citizens, particularly African Americans, to suffer pain and early death?

Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, AIDS and several other diseases and conditions that fill the hospitals of America strike with an especially deadly force in the African American community. Black Americans contract and die from these ailments at rates alarmingly out of proportion to their presence in the population.

Restricted access to competent health care is widely believed to be a major contributing factor to the problem. Moreover, black patients’ encounters with caregivers are often unsatisfactory and are persuasive in limiting their future contacts with the healthcare community. And, not least, uninsured and underinsured citizens, many of them African Americans, are likely to avoid medical care altogether until an emergency condition forces them to visit a trauma unit. By that time, however, many are diagnosed as victims of multiple ailments, any one of which, alone or in combination with others, may be life threatening.

Dozens of studies have documented these phenomena and have recommended solutions that require priority national resolve to address underlying issues. Some of the most useful recommendations recently have come from the prestigious Institute of Medicine, which found new ways of saying old truths spoken some years ago in the U. S. Surgeon General’s reports to the nation. All such reports on health disparities and their potential remedies have essentially said the same things. The issue now is whether or not there are public figures with the vision to position healthcare as a civil rights issue no less compelling than voting rights; with political skill to win public support for special efforts to address this special problem.

Related Sources

David Satcher, M.D., former U.S. Surgeon General, now director of the National Center for Primary Care, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Phone: 404-756-5740; email: ncpc@msm.edu 

John E. Maupin, Jr., D.D.S., president, Association of Minority Health Professions Schools, Atlanta, GA Phone: 404-756-8923; email: c/o  pchampion@minorityhealth.org

John Ruffin, Ph.D., Director, National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities National Institutes of Health, Washington, D.C. Phone: 301-402-1366; email: NCMHDinfo@od.nih.gov

National Academies Press
Racial, ethnic disparities in health care

Plan to deal with health disparities, FY 2002-2006

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