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Access to Quality, Affordable Health Care Is More Important Than Ever

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With it being National Minority Health Month, I want to discuss health disparities and access to care for a moment. We know it is proven that minorities and people from lower socioeconomic groups have less access to quality healthcare, and it has been this way for decades!

We also know that minorities have higher rates of preventable chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, due to a wide variety of factors such as finances, diet or class to name a few. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that “Latinos and African-Americans experience 30 to 40 percent poorer health outcomes than white Americans.”

This pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a new viral strain that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications, has further shown us huge disparities of care in our communities, with minorities facing infection at alarming rates. The Mayor of Chicago reported in early April that over 70 percent of people who died from coronavirus in the city were black residents.

Even with the expansion of Medicaid and the passing of the Affordable Care Act, we are still seeing higher mortality rates in minorities due to lack of healthcare.

There are many factors to consider, especially historical evidence of how minorities were treated. Think back to the Trail of Tears, Tuskegee Experiments, Holocaust and even the story of a wonderful woman named Henrietta Lacks (read the book, you won’t be disappointed!). For all of these reasons, many minorities are untrusting of medicine or the government to provide care and will absolutely not go to the doctor, even if it means the difference between life and death. While medicine has advanced and there is more representation in the medical field, there is still quite a bit of bias in how minorities and women are treated. I have experienced this myself as a a patient and watched love ones receive care that is less than satisfactory compared to other patients on the same floor.

So with all of this information, how do we begin to address all of these issue in accessing quality care? How do we ensure that all patients, regardless of gender, race or ethnic background are treated with respect and get what they need versus the run around? Lastly, how do we make sure it is affordable?

While there may not be easy answers, there are things that can be done to assist in answering these questions and addressing these issues. Here are my thought and tips based on my experiences.

I come from a minority family. While I was blessed to have insurance for most of my life, we didn’t always have the best care, and I watched family members die or get sicker than they should because of how they grew up — in poverty, living in rural areas, having limited access to care and not having good experiences with doctors. I myself have also had no insurance and have struggled to pay hospital bills. I am still struggling to pay many hospital bills, and it’s hard. But sometimes there is no other option.

Hence, why we need to have this conversation more often. So, here we go with some suggestions for improving health disparities and access to care:

1. Have an advocate or someone who you feel comfortable going with you to appointments. This helps significantly with receiving a better standard of care and being taken seriously, in most cases.

2. Do your research and go to your appointments prepared.

Having a list of symptoms, medications and questions will not only steer your appointment, but also empower you and help you advocate for yourself. Many doctors jam their patients in and don’t take time to listen and process. By having your questions written down and your thoughts on paper, it allows you to get the most out of your appointment. You may even leave feeling empowered versus like you have been trampled on — that’s what quality care looks like.

3. Ask questions.

You have the right to know what is going on. Look back at number two. Even after you presented everything, the exam is finished and the doctor has spoken to you, you have the right to ask more questions. Don’t ever forget that.

4. If you don’t feel comfortable with the provider say something!

Often times you can switch providers or talk to your insurance company about finding another doctor in network. If you don’t have insurance, then talk to the practice manager about what you can do to change your standard of care.

5. Write your law makers.

They are on committees to make changes related to healthcare reform and costs. This trickles down to us, which we need. Nobody should have to choose between rent and going to the doctor. Period.

6. Encourage your loved ones to access care.

It may be hard, but try to talk to them about healthy living and searching to find providers they feel comfortable with.

These are just a few tips to navigate the healthcare system, but the important thing is to get in there. There are so many way to access care in communities now that if we all collectively work together, we can reduce mortality rates and improve outcomes.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by bluebearry

Originally published: April 25, 2020
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