Column: Eliminating racial and ethnic healthcare disparities can save $57 billion each year
By Fredette West
Director, African American Health Alliance
In all of the talk about how can the nation can pay for health reform; and in all the talk about where can we find savings; and in all the talk about finding “off-sets” — media, legislators, and analysts, I point your attention to study findings by researchers, including recent studies from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland. A major portion of the answer to questions about where can money be found is “eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities.” By doing so, we could save over $57 billion each year from direct healthcare costs.To achieve these record savings means putting an end to substandard healthcare for racial and ethnic minorities. Communities of color deal with substandard healthcare that lacks quality, accessibility, and appropriateness. Inadequate care leads to health disparities that affect individuals whether they are insured, underinsured, or uninsured; and regardless of their educational attainment or socioeconomic status.These health disparities result in prolonged illnesses, needless disabilities, and premature deaths for thousands of American citizens. This exacts a devastating human and economic toll. It doesn’t have to be this way.While some of the provisions in the bill appear to address the issue of health disparities, in its current form the bill will not eliminate health disparities to the extent we need and that it is capable of without a targeted, deliberate strategy to eliminate health disparities. With respect to communities of color whether insured, underinsured, or uninsured, to maximize the health improvement benefits from the health reform bill requires the inclusion of provisions in the bill for the development and implementation of a National Strategy to End Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. And, clearly, to achieve the $57 billion annually from direct excess medical care requires the inclusion of provisions for National Strategy to End Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in the health reform bill.
What we need are provisions in the bill that would support developing and implementing a national strategy to eliminate these disparities. To do this would require adding about two additional pages to a bill that is already over 2,000 pages long. The savings–in dollars, suffering, and lives–would be well worth the addition. And, we need to ensure that communities of color are participating in implementing health reform and that they are members of the monitoring and decision-making bodies. We need to strengthen and protect provisions pertaining to cultural competency, data, workforce diversity, prevention and wellness.
By adding provisions to address these issues, we can save $57 billion annually and more than $570 billion over 10 years, by eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. Doing so would ease the country’s economic burden, lower the cost of health care, and help pay for health reform. These savings could be invested in growing small businesses, and generating jobs in transportation, construction, healthcare, and technology. We could use those savings to sustain job growth in ways that will rebuild the economy for the long-term and reduce the deficit.Congress must pay attention to this important issue. Legislators must include provisions in the healthcare reform bill that will support developing and implementing a National Strategy to End Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. That strategy must be developed jointly, in partnership with communities, government, business, and industry. By now this must be perfectly clear that one size does not fit all and needs even vary by District and by State requiring that certainly direct community input must be used to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate the national strategy.
Is this worth the effort? Absolutely! The savings to be gained by eliminating health disparities are more than seven times greater than those to be generated by the pharmaceutical industry, and more than three times greater than those to be generated by hospitals in health reform. The Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition Chaired by the African American Health Alliance, continues to bring this important requirement for cost effective health reform to the attention of the Congress and the Administration. To date, pending legislation still does not include provisions for this important strategy–despite the fact that effective and efficient health reform must address health disparities in a comprehensive way.Including these legislative provisions in the bill is not just good health sense–it’s good business sense and good economic sense.Without a national plan to end racial and ethnic health disparities, it will be impossible to reduce healthcare costs, provide access to quality healthcare for all, and guarantee this and future generations that our nation will remain a global leader. Congress must not overlook or ignore this opportunity to reduce the deficit, save lives, and improve quality of life by including legislative provisions for a National Strategy to End Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in the final health reform bill.