This post is written by Senior Fellow, Charmaine Ruddock MS. She directs Bronx Health REACH, a coalition of 50 community and faith-based organizations, funded by the Centers for Disease Control’s REACH 2010 Initiative to address racial and ethnic health disparities.
Recently, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders was the keynote speaker at Connecticut Health Foundation’s Health Equity Media Event where she highlighted the ongoing crisis of racial and ethnic health disparities.
Her comments serve to remind us that, even as we are one week in to open enrollment in the Health Insurance Exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, making it possible for millions of Americans who, have been without health insurance to finally get it, which, in turn, translates into much needed access to healthcare, health insurance alone will not solve the problem of racial and ethnic health disparities.
As the National REACH Coalition and its allies pointed out at a recent Congressional briefing hosted by Trust for America’s Health and the YMCA, without a targeted effort based in, and directed by the communities most affected partnering with departments of health, churches, schools, healthcare providers, grocery stores, parks, and even the research community, we will still be faced with these disparities for many, many years to come. In 2009, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in a report, The Economic Burden of Health Inequalities in the United States, pointed out that between 2003 and 2006 the combined costs of health inequalities and premature death in the United States were $1.24 trillion. According to the report, the direct medical costs associated with health disparities for African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics were $229.4 billion in that same time period.
This is an enormous price tag for not solving the problem of health disparities. The biggest price, however, are the many Americans of color who will live sicker and die younger. Dr. Elders, in her speech, reminds us that at every level this must be viewed as unacceptable and as a battle that must be fought and won.
written by Charmaine Ruddock