Study Finds Racial Inequalities Cost U.S. Health System Over $50 Billion a Year

Racial inequalities in health care access and quality added more than $50 billion a year in direct U.S. health care costs over a four-year period according to a study released today by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

As stated in the press release from the Joint Center,

In this study, researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland found that over 30 percent of direct medical expenditures for African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics were excess costs linked to health inequalities. Between 2003 and 2006, these excess costs were $229.4 billion.

Further, the researchers estimated that the indirect costs of racial inequalities associated with illness and premature death amounted to more than a trillion dollars over the same time period. Eliminating these inequalities would have saved the U.S. economy a grand total of $1.24 trillion dollars. The study noted that this four-year $1.24 trillion expenditure is more than the annual gross domestic product of India, the world’s 12th largest economy.

Previous studies have established that minority Americans experience poorer than average health outcomes from cradle to grave. People of color are significantly more likely to die as infants, have higher rates of chronic disease and disability, and shorter life spans.

The costs measured in the Joint Center study include those directly associated with providing care to a sicker and more disadvantaged population, as well as such indirect costs such as lost productivity, lost wages, absenteeism, use of family leave for avoidable illnesses and lower quality of life. In addition, the study measured the costs of premature death in the form of forgone wages, lost tax revenues, additional services and benefits for the families of the deceased and lower quality of life for survivors.

The study is available for download from the Joint Center site.

A related article on the nature and causes of racial disparities in health care from the Washington Post, Studies Look for Reasons Behind Racial Disparities in Health Care, provides some insight on this problem:

Racial minorities are less likely to undergo major surgeries at the hospitals where those operations are done best, and black patients at Medicare HMOs fare worse than whites on several health measures regardless of plan quality, according to studies being released today.

The two studies in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, plus a third showing that black women are less likely than their white counterparts to survive breast cancer, add to the voluminous evidence that the U.S. health-care system works differently for minorities than for whites despite years of efforts to erase racial disparities.

Studies have demonstrated that blacks and other minorities are far less likely than whites to receive many types of care, such as appendectomies, heart bypass surgery, or basic tests and drugs for heart disease and diabetes. Minorities on average are more prone to illness, have more complications and recover more slowly. They also are more likely to die from their illnesses, and to die younger.

But while the persistent disparities are well-documented, the causes remain the focus of research and debate. One explanation is that minorities tend to be poorer and less educated, with less access to care. And they tend to live in places where doctors and hospitals provide lower quality care than elsewhere. Others suspect cultural or biological differences play a role, and there is a long-running debate about whether subtle racism infects the health-care system.


Why Black Conservatives Don’t Vote Republican

Kathleen Parker recently wrote an essay in the Washington Post titled Can the GOP Speak to Blacks? Before even reading past the headline, I thought to myself: the Republican Party is speaking to Blacks. It’s just that, what they’re saying doesn’t sound too good:

Stuff like that gets to the crux of the issue that’s not addressed in Parker’s article, which talks about a young black conservative who’s trying to convince other blacks to join the Republican Party:

Marvin Rogers, a 33-year-old former aide to South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, has a plan for the GOP. He wants to change its complexion.

In 2008… he ran unsuccessfully for the SC state House of Representatives. “Unsuccessfully” in this case should be qualified. Rogers won 32 percent of the vote in a blue stronghold, running as a black Republican in the year of Obama.

(When Rogers started to think about his own political leaning), he began by examining issues on paper and recognized that he was philosophically more aligned with Republicans than Democrats. But then a funny thing happened. When he began attending political meetings, he noticed, “Oh, my, I’m the only black guy here. What’s up with that?”

That question led Rogers on a quest that has resulted in a book nearing completion, “Silence Is the Loudest Sound,” in which he attempts to explain how the party of Lincoln lost its black soul. Through five years of study and interviews, Rogers reached the conclusion that the chasm between the black community and the Republican Party is more emotional than philosophical. And, he says, that chasm is more a media template than reflective of reality.

The best explanation for what’s gone wrong, he says, was articulated by Jack Kemp, who told him during an interview: “The Republican Party has had a great history with African Americans and they turned away from it. The Democratic Party has had a terrible history, but they overcame it.”

Part of the turning away followed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” which tried to harness votes by cultivating white resentment toward blacks. Rogers is no Pollyanna and recognizes this period for what it was — a “bruise” on the GOP. But he insists that Democrats use the Southern strategy when it suits them.

The biggest problem for today’s Republican Party, he says, is tone-deafness, as manifested by conservative talk radio and TV. Rogers says he and most blacks can’t listen to Rush Limbaugh because all they hear is anger. “They might agree with Rush on the issues, but they can’t hear him because he sounds mad. People don’t follow fussers. People don’t follow angry men. They follow articulators.”

The article reminded me of a point made by one of my college instructors: a key to understanding American politics is to realize that this is a two-party country.

In other countries, especially those with a parliamentary form of government, there can be many parties. But in America, you have have the big two, Democrats and Republicans, and a few smaller parties that lack a record of sustained success.

This means that particular constituents and interest groups are forced to form coalitions with other groups that support one of the dominant parties. That often leads to uncomfortable alliances. But this is the reality of American politics.

And in fact, you will find many African Americans at BOTH the conservative and progressive ends of the spectrum who are not entirely comfortable with the Democrats.
Protesters at the September 12th march on Washington
How many black conservatives want to join with these people?

But consider what blacks would have to put up with, if they were in a coalition with conservatives and Republicans:
The Hate That Hate Produced: The Demonization of Barack Obama by the Republican Party

There are many more examples that could be provided, in addition to the ones noted in the link. Many more. Many many many more.

To be clear: it is unfair and incorrect to say that all Republicans, or even a majority of Republicans, harbor racist feelings toward Obama or African Americans.

But there’s a whole lot more of those kinds of folks, making and sending overt or implicitly racist messages, on the extreme edge of the GOP than there are at the extreme edge of the Democratic Party. And these crazies scare black folks a lot more than the Democratic crazies.

The bottom line is this: most black people will not tolerate, nor join in coalition with, the kinds of extremists that we see in the GOP. Until that changes, the Republicans will continue to get a small portion of the black vote.

See also: Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats?

Know the Facts: The Success of the Stimulus Package

There’s some question/debate about whether the stimulus package that was passed earlier this year has helped the economy or not.

To be sure: there are many structural problems in our economy – such as foreign outsourcing, computerization, uncompetitiveness in manufacturing – that won’t just go away. No bill from Congress will fix all of that, or any of that.

But make no mistake, the stimulus package has helped the economy. As mentioned in the article Stimulus Credited for Lifting Economy, But Worries About Unemployment Persist from the Washington Post,

Half a year after Congress enacted the largest economic stimulus plan in the nation’s history, the measure is contributing to what increasingly looks like a budding recovery…

While some congressional Republicans and others are dubious about the success of the stimulus plan, economists generally agree that the package has played a significant part in stabilizing the economy. They are less certain about the size of the impact.

“It’s starting to play a role, helping us to have slightly positive rather than slightly negative GDP growth,” said Phillip Swagel, an assistant Treasury secretary in the Bush administration who is now a visiting professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. “It’s a gigantic amount of fiscal stimulus, and anyone who tells you it has had no impact, you should be skeptical of.”

IHS Global Insight, an economic consulting firm, estimates that the stimulus has increased the 2009 gross domestic product by about 1 percent over what it otherwise would have been, with the benefit almost entirely in the second half of the year.

The firm also forecasts that the package will, in total, result in about 2 million more jobs than otherwise would have existed at the end of 2010. Moody’s estimates that the initiative will increase employment by 2.5 million jobs. Both estimates are below the 3 million to 3.5 million jobs the Obama administration estimated the package would create or save because the firms assumed more modest ripple effects from the stimulus spending than administration economists did.

Still, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s, said, “I don’t think it’s any accident that the economy has gone out of recession and into recovery at the same time stimulus is providing its maximum economic impact.”

Now that YOU know, share the knowledge, and let everyone else know.

An interesting video, Five Ways President Obama Changed My Life, talks about how the stimulus and other policies have helped a Jane Q Citizen from Philly: