The injustice of health disparity

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:32 PM

Panelists at a forum here Thursday night painted a bleak, if hardly unknown, picture of a glaring gap in our community.

Minorities here and across the country face an unequal access to medical care, and as a result of that and other factors on average suffer from poorer health than the population as a whole.

Jonathan Kotch, a physician at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, laid out many of the results of those inequalities, as The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch reported Friday:

-- A child born to a black woman is more likely to be born prematurely, or too small, and is three times more likely to die before his or her first birthday.

-- Minorities suffer more heart disease, stroke and diabetes – all diseases that are far more prevalent in Durham, for example, than should be expected or tolerated in an affluent City of Medicine.

-- Minorities have higher rates of cancer, hypertension, asthma and other respiratory problems.

Underlying those health issues are factors such as poverty and historic patterns of discrimination. But they are exacerbated by unequal access to health care, a disparity fueled by the fact many lower-income and minority residents have no insurance.

“Like most states, North Carolina has persistent racial disparities in access to health care and overall health outcomes,” the left-leaning Budget and Tax Center in Raleigh reported in September. “In North Carolina, 71.7 percent of African Americans under the age of 65 reported they had some form of health insurance, compared to 82.9 percent of whites in North Carolina,” the center said in a policy brief. “Latinos and American Indians in North Carolina are more likely than whites or African Americans to be uninsured and to have been unable to see a doctor in the last 12 months because of the cost.”

Those statistics should give our legislators pause as they balk at taking part in extending Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. Gov. Pat McCrory has targeted reforming the state’s administration of Medicaid, and we cannot fault that goal. He says no decision on Medicaid expansion can come until after that is complete.

We hope the state will move swiftly to take part in the Medicaid expansion, which will deliver insurance coverage to many low-income families and will help to address health inequality.

In the end, the health gap in our community is, as Kotch put it Thursday, “a huge injustice.” We can help to close it.