Fixing racial disparities could mean billions to pay for health care reform
Racial health disparities cost the United States $229 billion between 2003 and 2006, money that could help pay for an overhaul of the nation's health care system, according to a new report by Johns Hopkins researchers.
"The statistics are just stunning and shocking," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, during an announcement of the findings this morning. "There is no question that reducing the health disparities can save incredible amounts of money. But more importantly it saves lives and it makes us a healthier and more prosperous nation."
Up until now, those fighting to close racial health gaps have made their pleas on moral grounds. Confronting why black men are twice as likely to have prostate cancer than white men, is simply the right thing to do, they say. But the new figures aim to break the issue down into dollars and cents at a time when everyone is concerned about soaring health care costs.
"What we are arguing in this report is if you want to get a handle on health care costs and quality and ensuring that the U.S. has a healthcare system that is worthy of this nation, you need to account for disparities," said Thomas A. LaVeist, director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions and the report's author. "And the economic effect of the disparities alone could likely pay for the care for those who don’t have access now."
LaVeist gleaned the figures from data from the government's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which keeps tabs on how much individuals pay for health care and how healthy they are. He broke down the figures by race and age group to compare how minorities fare to whites in different categories.
It's long been known that blacks, Latinos and Asians are more likely to suffer bad health outcomes that whites in a host of diseases. But what's less clear is how to fix it. While the study puts a dollar figure on what's lost, it doesn't explain specifically how to address the problem besides the general concept of overhauling the health care system.
Presumably, more access to doctors, better preventive care can help. But health disparities are a deeply complex issue that touch on access to quality care, adequate insurance coverage and even genetics, some experts believe.
LaVeist thinks this report is a launching off point to have more of those conversations. And most importantly, he hopes they add fodder for advocates who want to reform the current health care system.