Despite incredible scientific and medical advances like penicillin and vaccines that protect us from polio, measles, influenza, and now COVID-19, healthcare disparities continue to disproportionately harm minorities and add billions of dollars to the cost of healthcare.
Conditions like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes top a long list of medical conditions disproportionately affecting minority populations, according to Hamilton Health Center CEO Jeannine Peterson. The clinic serves thousands, including a large minority population, who might otherwise have little or no access to healthcare.
These disparities come at a steep price.
Health disparities added nearly $230 billion in direct medical costs, and about $1 trillion in productivity losses, costs associated with early death, and other indirect costs, to the nation’s healthcare bill from 2003-2006, according to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
National Minority Health Month each April is an opportunity to educate people about healthcare disparities and “the importance of getting preventive health and not just waiting until they have a disease,” Peterson said.
What do health disparities look like? Consider this small sampling of research published by the Center for American Progress:
- Hispanic women are 40% more likely to have cervical cancer and 20% more likely to die from it than non-Hispanic white women are.
- An estimated 12.6% of African American children had asthma, compared with 7.7% of non-Hispanic white children.
- An estimated 42% of African Americans over the age of 20 suffer from hypertension, versus 28.7% non-Hispanic whites.
- In 2018, just 6.2% of African Americans received prescription medication for mental health services, compared to 15.3% of non-Hispanic whites.
- In 2017, infant mortality for Puerto Ricans was 40% higher than for non-Hispanic whites.
- Asian Americans are 80% more likely to be diagnosed with end-stage renal (kidney) disease than non-Hispanic whites.
- American Indian and Alaska Native adolescents have double the HIV infection compared to non-Hispanic whites.
“Poverty, poor nutrition, language barriers, unhealthy behaviors, discrimination, racism, educational and professional inequality – these are some of the things that fuel these health disparities,” said Capital BlueCross President and CEO Todd Shamash. “Supporting health awareness and education programs that address these factors is one way businesses can be part of the solution.”
Capital BlueCross, for example, contributed nearly $200,000 toward health events and vocational-technical school tuition scholarships organized through Lancaster’s Spanish American Civic Association (SACA).
With retail giant Rite Aid, Capital BlueCross helped provide more than 3,000 COVID-19 vaccines at neighborhood clinics it helped organize in recent weeks at Harrisburg’s Hamilton Health Center, the Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem, and at the Luis Munoz Marin Senior Center and Spanish American Civic Association in Lancaster.
Capital BlueCross has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council whose mission includes developing a better understanding of minority health disparities. The company also uses Spanish-language advertisements, video, billboards, website landing pages, and social media campaigns in an effort to reach typically underserved populations.
“Navigating the world of health insurance is much easier when we address the language barrier,” Shamash said.
“A lot of people have a distrust of the healthcare system,” Peterson said. “It is important that messages are delivered by people that are respected and trusted in the community, and it’s important that our services are offered at locations and times that our people can access them.
“Mobile service vans and partnerships with local churches are part of the solution, too,” Peterson said. “That’s the way to get to communities that historically have been left out of the mainstream.”
Having a month dedicated to awareness of minority health issues is helpful, but Peterson said a month really is not enough. “From a public health perspective, we really need to be focused on this all year long.”