The Need for Equity in Health Care

On Wednesday night in Omaha, the members of the Nebraska Health Care for America Now coalition hosted a community conversation on health disparities among minorities. This was the third in a series of conversations about the health disparities that currently exist in our system and how and why those disparities should be addressed in national health care reform.

In the flurry and politics surrounding the reform efforts, we haven’t heard enough about the lack of equity that exists in our current health care system. While it is critical to make sure we stop insurance companies from denying you care for a pre-existing condition and to focus on more preventative care, there are problems facing communities of color that go beyond even the flaws and perverse incentives of the current system. A few weeks ago Nebraska Appleseed along with Nebraska HCAN released a report “Unequal Lives: Health Care Discrimination Harms Communities of Color in Nebraska.” Here are just a few of the disturbing facts in that report:

  • The infant death rate for whites is 5.1 per 1,000 live births, one-third of the rate of 14 for African Americans.
  • Life expectancy for African Americans in Nebraska is 6 to 10 years shorter than that of whites.
  • About 33 percent of Latinos and 26 percent of African Americans in Nebraska are uninsured, compared with 11 percent of whites.
  • In Nebraska, 32 percent of Latina women and 31 percent of African American women received no early prenatal care, compared with 13 percent for whites.

There are several proposals in Congress to help address health disparities including: (1) improving interpretation services so that patients and doctors can effectively communicate with one another; (2) increasing data collection on the health status and access of minority populations to address the lack of data presently; and (3) increasing the primary care workforce in underserved communities. It will also be key to address many of the social determinants that affect health, like access to affordable, nutritious food, clean environments, and safe neighborhoods.

We were extremely grateful for the distinguished panel of presenters who gave their time to the community conversation: Dr. Naser Alsharif, Creighton University, Dr. Ruben Pamies, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Dr. Donna Polk-Primm, Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition, and Dr. Jose Villegas, University of Nebraska Medical Center. We hope to continue to have more of these conversations as health care reform moves forward.

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