Racial Inequities Persist in Health Care Despite Expanded Insurance

Health workers demonstrating in Washington in 2020. Racial health gaps did not narrow significantly between 1999 and 2018, according to one study.Credit...
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Two decades ago, only 9 percent of white Americans rated their health as fair or poor. But 14 percent of Hispanic Americans characterized their health in those terms, as did nearly 18 percent of Black Americans.

In recent years, access to care has improved in the wake of the Affordable Care Act, which reduced the number of uninsured Americans across all racial and ethnic groups. But the racial health gap has remained, according to a series of studies published on Tuesday in the journal JAMA.

A dismal picture of persistent health disparities in America was described in an issue devoted entirely to inequities in medicine. The wide-ranging issue included research on spending and patterns of care, comparative rates of gestational diabetes and the proportion of Black physicians at medical schools.

The journal’s editors committed to a sharper focus on racism in medicine after a controversy in June, in which a staff member seemed to suggest that racism was not a problem in health care. The ensuing criticism led to the resignation of the top editor and culminated with a pledge to increase staff diversity and publish a more inclusive array of papers.

“The topics of racial and ethnic disparities and inequities in medicine and health care are of critical importance,” Dr. Phil B. Fontanarosa, interim editor in chief of JAMA, said in a statement. He noted that JAMA has published more than 850 articles on racial and ethnic disparities and inequities in the past.

The new issue offers studies on disparities in the utilization of health care services and in overall health spending. Together, the findings paint a portrait of a nation still plagued by medical haves and have-nots whose ability to benefit from scientific advances varies by race and ethnicity, despite the fact that the A.C.A. greatly expanded insurance.

The racial health gap did not significantly narrow from 1999 to 2018, according to one study whose author said it was tantamount to “a comprehensive national report card.”

“We’re failing,” added Dr. Harlan Krumholz, the study’s senior author.

“If our national goals are to improve the population’s health and promote more health equity, then we have to admit that whatever we’re doing now is not doing the trick,” he said. “This should wake us up, and spark us to think of new and better approaches.”

Other studies in the journal teased apart factors that may be contributing to the gap, including different patterns of care-seeking. White Americans, for example, are more likely than members of minority groups to visit primary care physicians and specialists in the community, rather than a hospital or emergency room.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-18 03:28:02 -0700