MINORITY HEALTH: Activists Armed with New Data, Resolve
A new compendium on minority health showing large disparities in insurance coverage, health status and access to care comes as officials and activists nationwide struggle to implement policies that address minority concerns. The new chartbook from HHS' Agency for Health Care Policy and Research provides estimates of health care disparities in 1996, the most recent year for which data is available, finding that blacks and Hispanics are the most likely to be in poor health and the least likely to have health insurance through their employers. The study also found that one-fourth of blacks have only public insurance, compared to one- fifth of Hispanics and one-tenth of whites. Hispanic families were the most likely to report barriers to obtaining health care and the least likely to have a usual source of health care. "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health, 1996" is available from the AHCPR Publications Clearinghouse at www.meps.ahcpr.gov or at 800/358-9295 (AHCPR release, 2/22).
In a Boston Globe op-ed, Todd Payton and Georgia Simpson of the Men of Color Health Initiative decry the funding shortfalls that their agency and similar programs face in trying to close the racial health care gap. Their Massachusetts-based program pinpoints the health care access needs of minority men and prods the public health system to respond. Although the initiative has identified barriers to the system and spurred "systemwide changes," the program's funding "has not kept pace with the need." As the state Department of Public Health continues to trim its funding of the project, the advocates warn that action must be taken while the economy is on an upswing. They conclude that "in an economic downturn, these men will be just as forgotten as they were prior to the initiative's creation" (2/23).
Speaking to a crowd of physicians and students at the Medical College of Georgia yesterday, CDC Associate Director for Minority Health Walter Williams called for a greater push to eliminate racial health care disparities. Williams pointed to statistics indicating that blacks are disproportionately impacted by breast and prostate cancers, are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes and heart disease and have twice the infant mortality rate of other groups. He said that "[e]ven when insurance and income are equal, blacks are less likely to get preventive services and equal treatment," charging that "racism and discrimination may unfortunately still play a role in that." Applauding President Clinton's new Healthy People 2000 and 2010 initiatives which call for "the gap among different groups be closed," Williams told the crowd that "[e]verybody has a role in this" (Corwin, Augusta Chronicle, 2/23).