Health Care 'Gap' Continues for Minority, Poor Americans

Government report finds they have higher incidence of illness, fewer options for care

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TUESDAY, June 9, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Minority and low-income Americans are much more likely to suffer from a chronic, debilitating illness than whites and are far less likely to have the kind of coverage that would ensure quality care, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For example, nearly half (48 percent) of black adults suffer from some form of chronic condition compared to 39 percent of adults generally, the report found, and one in every five black Americans lacks health insurance, compared to one in every eight whites.

"Minorities and low-income Americans are more likely to be sick and less likely to get the care they need," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an agency news release. "These disparities have plagued our health system and our country for too long."

Despite spending $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007 alone, there are still big gaps in the care of white and minority patients as well as rich and poor patients, the HHS report noted.

Some of the other findings from the new report:

  • Black Americans are more likely to die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. Black men are 50 percent more prone to prostate cancer, for example, than white men.
  • While about 9 percent of whites develop adult-onset diabetes, that number rises to 14 percent for Hispanics, 15 percent for blacks, and 18 percent for American Indians.
  • Obesity, which is a major risk factor for diabetes, remains much higher among minorities than among whites. For example, 70 percent of black American adults are now obese or overweight.
  • Cancer screening rates remain lower for minority and/or poor patients. For example, low-income women are 26 percent less apt to receive a regular mammogram than more affluent women.
  • There were even disparities in terms of routine doctor visits. Hispanic and black Americans were much less likely to have a regular primary care physician compared to whites, and black Americans were twice as likely as whites to use a hospital emergency department as a source of medical care.

Much of these disparities come back to a gap in access to health care coverage, the report noted. Among low-income Americans, 4 out of 10 people lack health insurance. In fact, half of America's 46 million uninsured are poor, the HHS report found.

One-third of the uninsured have a chronic illness and they are six times more likely to go without needed care for that condition compared with those who have insurance.

More information

There's more on health disparities at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, news release, report, June 9, 2009

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