NJ faces challenges on health inequity for Blacks, Hispanics, health care scorecard finds

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | NOVEMBER 18, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

July 21, 2020, the family of Lydia Nunez mourns next to her casket at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Nunez died from COVID-19.

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Racial inequities in health care exist in all 50 states — even those with strong health care systems, like New Jersey — with Black, Latino and other people of color more likely to face barriers to treatment, poor outcomes and early death when compared to white residents.

Those findings are part of a report on racial and ethnic health care disparities released Thursday by The Commonwealth Fund to help policy makers — and the public — better understand the magnitude of these gaps and set appropriate targets for closing them. The nonprofit research organization has published state health care scorecards for nearly a decade, but this is the first focused on racial equity.

The scorecard is based on the most recent available government data — mostly from 2019, with some 2020 numbers — in five categories: Black, white, Hispanic or Latinx, Native American and a group that includes Asian American, Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. While the data doesn’t account for the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers said that the outbreak exposed long-standing, systemic inequities, but also exacerbated the outcome gaps.

“As we think about these findings, if we sort of overlay the pandemic on this, what we’re really talking about is the need to intentionally address these racial inequities in a meaningful way,” said Dr. Laurie Zephyrin, a Commonwealth vice president and study co-author, on a conference call with reporters. “Because of the pandemic, many of these inequities could now be worse.”

An unequal burden

Black and brown communities suffered an unequal burden under the pandemic, as they were more likely to be comprised of frontline workers who faced greater risk for infection and suffered from conditions that exacerbated COVID-19, while having less access to care, in general. People of color also experienced far higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death than white individuals, both in New Jersey and nationwide.

New Jersey outperformed about three-quarters of the states for which there were full datasets on health system performance — a measure of access, use, quality of care and outcomes — among Blacks and Hispanics, the analysis found. The state was closer to the middle of the pack for the percentage of uninsured individuals in these demographic groups, indicating their access to care is more limited.

A previous Commonwealth study, released in January 2020, found racial disparities in health insurance coverage declined in New Jersey since 2013 as policies had become more accessible to people of color under the Affordable Care Act. By 2018, roughly one in four adult Hispanics and 12% of Blacks were uninsured, down from 40% and 24%, respectively, five years earlier.

New Jersey’s leaders have continued to push to expand ACA coverage, especially to reach more of the estimated 90,000 children who remain uninsured. In July, Gov. Phil Murphy quietly signed a law that enables the state’s Medicaid program to accept children of undocumented parents, something advocates believe could help at least 18,000 youngsters enroll in health plans. Officials included an extra $20 million in the current state budget to fund this initiative.

Health plan enrollment

Murphy has taken numerous steps over the years to expand and strengthen coverage under the ACA marketplace, or Obamacare. On Tuesday, he joined state and national leaders to promote the ongoing enrollment period, which gives people until December to select subsidized commercial plans for 2022.

“Health care is more important than ever, and New Jersey has worked for the last four years to improve access to coverage and care for our residents,” said Murphy, a Democrat who was reelected to a second term earlier this month.

State efforts and recent federal funding have allowed marketplace consumers to get more financial help than in the past, officials note, changes that have allowed nearly 70,000 more New Jerseyans to access plans in recent years. While some of these benefits are temporary, Murphy said nine out of 10 marketplace customers qualify for financial assistance, and some plans cost less than $10 a month.

“There’s never been a better time to find affordable and accessible health care coverage in New Jersey,” said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), a critical and longtime supporter of the ACA who pledged to continue to push for additional federal funding for the program. Pallone joined Murphy at the enrollment event Tuesday.

The new Commonwealth scorecard ranked New Jersey as 24th out of 47 states that reported full data for the percentage of uninsured Hispanics and 19th out of 40 states for Blacks. New York and Pennsylvania had lower uninsured rates among these groups, landing them in the top 10 states for both demographics.

Health system performance

When it comes to health system performance, Commonwealth ranked New Jersey closer to the top. The state was 12th out of 40 states for system performance among Hispanics; 10th for system performance among Blacks; and 9th for white residents. Again, New York and Pennsylvania had higher rankings in all but one category, in which Pennsylvania came in 17th for system performance among white residents.

Six states had above average performance for all racial groups, the scorecard found, many of them neighbors in the Northeast: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Hawaii and Oregon. Mississippi and Oklahoma had substandard results for all demographic groups, but white residents still had better outcomes than people of color.

 

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-18 03:21:35 -0800