We’re back with another edition of Beltway Buzz straight from our nation’s capital! This month we took a field trip to the Newseum for an event hosted by The Hill, a political newspaper published in DC, entitled Access to Care: A Discussion on Healthcare Disparities and Innovation. Sponsored by the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, the event was moderated by The Hill Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack, Publisher Johanna Derlega and writer Peter Sullivan.
Nadine Gracia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health & Director of the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) highlighted that 80% of healthcare issues stem from six chronic illnesses: heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, respiratory diseases and oral conditions. These illnesses contribute significantly to increased rates of disability and financial distress, which form the foundation of our country’s health disparities. The Heckler Report (also known as The Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black & Minority Health) has helped to identify and elevate the issues in provider-patient communication. For example, research found lower rates of referrals for specific minorities and difficulty with clinical trial recruitment. Mary McGowan, CE, WomenHeart explained that clinical trial participants are roughly 25% women and 75% men, causing women to fall into an access to care gap because they are simply not being asked by their providers to participate.
Samantha Artiga, Director, Disparities Policy Project, Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that African American and Hispanic populations are not the only minorities that are disproportionately affected by healthcare disparities. Any individual who cannot speak English, identifies as LGBT, or lives in a rural area has a predisposed disadvantage to quality healthcare. Ramanathan Raju, M.D., President & CEO, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation shared that healthcare issues will never be solved without first examining and addressing socioeconomic issues. While the Affordable Care Act has decreased the number of uninsured Americans significantly, healthcare coverage does not always translate to access to quality care.
Shifting our Practices
Despite representing varying backgrounds across the healthcare industry, the speakers agreed the following actions were necessary to catalyze change:
Gaps in Cardiovascular Care
Cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death for both men and women in America, accounts for $1 in every $6 spent on healthcare; however, there has been an unprecedented uptick in CVD mortality rates in recent years. Experts are concerned that our progress in combatting the disease is not only leveling off, but taking steps backward when it comes to the care of minorities. Researchers believed that early physician recommendations of lifestyle and diet changes would help incidence decline, but CVD rates amongst minorities have remained the same. Diet and exercise changes take both money and time, a luxury for many minorities. Now, doctors are finding that prescription drugs are helping to fill the gaps in care that were created by these original recommendations.
Closing the Gaps & Eliminating Disparities
The featured speakers estimate it will be five to 10 years before we see significant changes in health disparities. In the meantime legislators continue to develop bills aimed at improving our country’s health, such as the 21st Century Cures Act, which is intended to spur medical innovation through $8 billion in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health. The World’s Greatest Health Care Plan, a possible replacement for Obamacare, is a bill aimed at achieving universal healthcare through an automatic opt-in program. Leaders like President Obama and VP Biden have expressed support for initiatives targeting issues including precision medicine and a cancer ‘moonshot.’ As we continue to explore ways to close access gaps, these policy changes may be the key to ending healthcare disparities.
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