Late Breaking News
Low-income Americans and Racial and Ethnic Minorities Experience Disproportionately Higher Rates of Disease
- Categorized in: July 2009 Issue
WASHINGTON, DC—Despite spending $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007, disparities among demographic groups persist. Low-income Americans and racial and ethnic minorities experience disproportionately higher rates of disease, fewer treatment options, and reduced access to care, according to a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services last month. HHS expects that as unemployment continues to rise, the disparities already apparent among these groups will continue to increase.
“Minorities and low income Americans are more likely to be sick and less likely to get the care they need,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement. “These disparities have plagued our health system and our country for too long.”
Higher Rates of Disease
Obesity, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS all exist at higher rates in racial and ethnic minorities. Overall, African American adults are far more likely to suffer from a chronic disease than the general population (48% compared to 39%). Also, African Americans are 15% more likely to suffer from obesity than whites, and suffer from diabetes at a rate of 14% compared to 8% in whites. African American men are also 50% more likely than white men to suffer from prostate cancer, and are more likely than any other racial group to suffer from colorectal cancer.
However, African Americans are not the only racial group suffering from higher rates of illness. Hispanics also suffer from a high rate of diabetes. And American Indians suffer from adult onset diabetes at twice the rate of the white population. Hispanic and Vietnamese women have disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, which they contract at twice the rate of white women.
It is in the HIV/AIDS population that the most extreme disparities are seen. African Americans experience new HIV infections at seven times the rate of whites, and Hispanics experience new infections at two and a half times the rate of whites.
Lack of Care and Access to It
According to the report, this higher rate of disease is compounded by reduced access to care and a lack of routine care and prevention. One in three Hispanics and American Indians lack health insurance, compared to one in eight whites. Also, four in ten low-income Americans are uninsured and one-third of the uninsured population suffers from a chronic disease, which they are far less likely to receive care for. In contrast, 94% of upper-income Americans have health insurance. Also, low-income Americans are three times less likely to have a primary source of care, compared to those with higher incomes.
Those Americans with no health insurance and no primary care physician are also far less likely to receive regular check-ups and the care that can prevent or stall the onset of more serious health problems. Twenty-percent of low-income Hispanic youth have gone a year without a health care visit—a rate three times higher than high-income whites. Hispanics are also one-third less likely to be counseled on obesity.
Racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive colorectal screening, resulting in a diagnosis of the disease at more advanced stages in African Americans and a higher colorectal cancer mortality rate than any other race. Vietnamese women are half as likely to have had a pap smear test in the past three years than white women, and in turn they have the highest rate of cervical can-cer—twice the rate of whites—and are twice as likely to die from it once it develops. And while mammography is a simple tool that provides vital early detection for breast cancer, low-income women are 26% less likely than women in a higher income bracket to receive them.
According to Sebelius, Congressional reform is sorely needed to help the nation close these gaps. “It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to come together to pass reforms this year that help reduce disparities and give all Americans the care they need and deserve,” she said.