Healthcare reform and communities of color

By Michelle Chen Jan 22, 2009

Health gaps across racial lines have been well documented. A new report suggests that healthcare reform is also a vital economic development issue for communities of color. The Mainstreet Alliance, a healthcare advocacy coalition focused on small businesses, has published a survey of small business owners showing that the small business community is surprisingly keen on the idea of overhauling the healthcare system. About 70 percent of the small employers surveyed in twelve states favored a strong government role in “guaranteeing access to quality, affordable health care.” A majority supported a healthcare system that included a “public option” plan for employees. Meanwhile, a majority of the employers reported that rising costs had prompted them to switch to health plans with higher out-of-pocket expenses for patients, to limit services, or to drop employee coverage altogether. A sidenote also gives some insight into how business owners in communities of color see health care reform:

“When analyzed separately, people of color business owners showed higher levels of support for a strong government role, more public oversight, and a public alternative by margins of 10 percent or more: 82 percent supported a strong role for government, 85 percent supported more public oversight of insurers, and 75 percent preferred a proposal with a public insurance alternative.”

It’s easy to see why these business owners might see a greater community stake in improving healthcare access. According to various studies, people of color in general are more likely than whites to suffer from poorer health and to lack insurance. Among Latinos and American Indians, the uninsured rate is nearly triple that of Whites. People of color are also less likely to have employer-sponsored coverage. But some states have sought to address racial disparities with targeted healthcare reforms. That includes not just expanding coverage for low- and moderate-income families, but also making programs more accessible by promoting more diverse, culturally competent staff and ensuring that services are equitably distributed in marginalized communities. Racial disparities in health care are nothing new, but as the country embarks on a new debate about universal coverage, the perspectives of people of color, whether they’re struggling with chronic health conditions, waiting at the ER, or buying insurance for their employees—deserve careful examination.