Minorities and immigrants in America are disproportionately hurt by a lack of health insurance, poor access to care, low quality treatment and gaps in service. This results in deadly symptoms. For example, 14 of every 1,000 African American babies in the U.S. die in their first year of life, compared to 6 of every 1,000 white babies. People of color are far less likely to get appropriate care for diabetes, asthma or heart disease, and therefore more likely to suffer complications.
Reducing these racial and ethnic health disparities will save lives and is essential to ensuring that everyone in America has quality affordable health care. It’s the right thing to do, but when the moral argument isn’t enough to move policymakers, two new studies have provided economic ammunition.
Instead of measuring disparities by counting the people of different races who suffer or die from preventable diseases, the new studies measure disparities in dollars.
“The Economic Burden of Health Inequities in the United States,” a new report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, finds that eliminating disparities among African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and whites would have saved $229 billion in medical treatments from 2003-2006. That’s nearly one-third of the cost of all medical care for African Americans, Asians and Hispanics. The report posits that the health gained by eliminating disparities would reverberate through society, resulting in an astounding $1.24 trillion in savings from fewer premature deaths, reduced absenteeism, and increased productivity.
“Estimating the Cost of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities,” by the Urban Institute takes a more narrow look, focusing on the costs of four preventable conditions among African Americans and Hispanics: diabetes, hypertension, stroke and kidney disease. In 2009, disparities in the rate and severity of these illnesses cost the health care system an estimated $24 billion, including nearly $16 billion in Medicare alone. Projected over the next decade, the cost would total $337 billion.
We hope the Congressional Budget Office keeps this in mind as they score provisions in the House and Senate health reform bills that seek to address disparities. As Thomas LaVeist, one of the Joint Center report authors said, “The cost of inaction is tremendous.”