Despite significant advancements in health care, disparities persist among marginalized populations in the United States. While medical breakthroughs and improved access to care have benefited many, there are still profound gaps in health outcomes, quality of care and access to essential services for these communities.
These disparities disproportionately affect minority populations, low-income individuals and other vulnerable groups, such as the ALICE population, leading to significant health inequities. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed and represents the nearly 500,000 households in the National Capital Area who earn above the Federal Poverty Line, but still cannot afford to meet their basic needs.
Read on to better understand health disparities and learn how we can achieve a more equitable health care system that provides equal opportunities for all individuals to attain optimal health and well-being.
Health Disparities Definition
According to the CDC, health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that socially disadvantaged populations experience.
One way to understand health disparities is through United Way of the National Capital Area’s ALICE Reports. ALICE individuals and families work but struggle to afford necessities such as housing, food, childcare, health care and transportation. ALICE Reports provide valuable insights into the financial challenges faced by these individuals and the impact of those challenges on their health.
Numerous factors contribute to health disparities, and socioeconomic status plays a significant role. Socioeconomic factors, such as income, education, occupation and housing, influence an individual’s ability to access quality health care services.
Those with lower socioeconomic status often face barriers like limited health insurance coverage, inadequate health care facilities in their communities and financial constraints that prevent them from seeking timely medical care. These barriers can lead to delayed diagnoses, poorer treatment outcomes and ultimately contribute to health disparities.
Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other marginalized identities also contributes to health disparities. It can lead to bias in health care delivery, lower quality of care and limited access to health care resources for minority populations.
Systemic racism, which encompasses historical and ongoing societal structures and policies perpetuating racial inequalities, profoundly impacts health outcomes. Inequalities in health care access, chronic disease rates, infant mortality and life expectancy are a few consequences of systemic racism.
Health Disparities with Examples
Marginalized communities face a disproportionate disadvantage when it comes to disease and illness. This is evident in higher rates of chronic conditions, maternal mortality and mental health disparities. Socioeconomic factors play a significant role, as minorities often experience lower incomes, limited access to health care services and higher poverty rates. This can result in inadequate health care coverage, delayed diagnoses and limited preventive care.
Disparities in health coverage contribute to the disproportionate disadvantage faced by minorities. According to the 2021 American Community Survey, Black individuals had an uninsured rate of 9.9%, Hispanic or Latino individuals had a rate of 17.7% and white individuals had a rate of 6%.
Among age groups, senior communities had low uninsurance rates (0.8% for those 65 years and older). However, younger age groups faced higher rates, such as 14.3% for individuals aged 19 to 25 and 15.4% for those aged 26 to 34.
Chronic Health Conditions
Chronic health conditions affect individuals from all walks of life, but there are notable differences among minority groups. Let’s explore how these statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics reveal disparities among minority communities regarding obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and other conditions:
- Coronary heart disease rates:
- Hispanic or Latino: 3%
- Black: 5.2%
- White: 5.6%
- Asian: 2.9%
- Hypertension rates:
- Hispanic or Latino: 18.8%
- Black: 35.2%
- White: 28.3%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 29.2%
- Asian: 20.2%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 25.4%
- High cholesterol rates:
- Hispanic or Latino: 16.4%
- Black: 19.1%
- White: 23.9%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 18.1%
- Asian: 20.4%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 20%
Alzheimer’s disease rates (2023 projections):
- Hispanic 65 and older: 14%
- Black 65 and older: 19%
- White 65 and older: 10%
Type 2 Diabetes rates:
- Hispanic or Latino: 11.9%
- Black: 12.7%
- White: 7%
- Asian: 9.2%
- Adults (2021):
- 18-34 years: 8.4%
- 35-49 years: 7.7%
- 50-64 years: 8.7%
- 65 years and older: 7.2%
- Children (2020):
- 0-4 years: 2%
- 5-11 years: 5.9%
- 12-17 years: 8.6%
Disparities in accessing mental health services and resources exist among various groups, leading to inequitable outcomes. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2021, 4.2% of adults in the U.S. did not receive needed mental health care due to cost. Among specific racial and ethnic groups, the rates were 4.1% for Hispanic or Latino individuals, 4.0% for Black individuals, 4.4% for white individuals and 1.7% for Asian individuals.
There are significant differences in the rates of receiving mental health counseling in the past 12 months among different racial and ethnic groups. For instance, Hispanic or Latino individuals and Black individuals had a rate of 7.9% and 8.9%, respectively, while white individuals had a rate of 12.6%.
The availability of minority behavioral health experts, such as licensed counselors and psychiatrists, is another challenge that many marginalized populations face. Nationally, in 2021, the representation of these professionals was 12.2% for Hispanic or Latino individuals, 11.3% for Black individuals, 67% for white individuals, 3.2% for Asian individuals and 0.4% for Native American and Alaska Native individuals.
Homelessness and childhood poverty also contribute to mental health challenges among minority populations. In 2022, Hispanic Americans were twice as likely as white individuals to experience homelessness, and Black Americans were five times as likely. Childhood poverty rates also varied across racial and ethnic lines. For instance, in 2019, 30% of Black children lived in poverty, compared to 10% of white children.
These statistics highlight the urgent need for targeted efforts to improve access to mental health services and resources for minority populations. It is essential to address systemic barriers, increase the availability of culturally competent providers and implement policies that tackle the social determinants of mental health disparities.
The Impact of Disparities in Health Care on Minorities
Disparities in health care experienced by minority communities have far-reaching negative consequences, affecting various aspects of people’s lives. Limited access to quality health care and higher rates of chronic conditions experienced by minority individuals contribute to a decreased life expectancy compared to their white counterparts.
These discrepancies result in a reduced quality of life for these communities; the lack of access to timely and appropriate health care services leads to untreated or poorly managed conditions and illnesses, resulting in diminished overall well-being. Minority populations often face obstacles such as cultural and language barriers, discrimination and inadequate health insurance coverage, all of which exacerbate the disparities in health care and further impact their standard of living.
Individuals from minority communities also frequently bear a disproportionate financial burden due to limited access to affordable health care services. The cost of untreated or poorly managed chronic conditions, frequent emergency room visits and delayed diagnoses can increase health care costs and financial hardships for individuals and families. These economic challenges further perpetuate the cycle of disparities, making it even more difficult for minorities to access necessary health care resources.
Barriers to Quality Health Care
Accessing quality health care is challenging for many individuals, with various barriers preventing them from receiving the care they need. One significant barrier is the lack of health insurance. Without adequate health insurance coverage, individuals cannot access health care services, including preventative care, screenings and necessary treatments, due to financial constraints. This lack of coverage disproportionately affects minority populations, particularly those living under the ALICE threshold, who often struggle to afford insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
Transportation is another roadblock that hinders access to health care. Individuals in rural or low-income areas often lack reliable transportation options to reach health care facilities. For instance, in the state of Virginia, the rate of financial hardship was higher in predominantly rural counties (47%) compared to urban counties (37%).
This lack of mobility limits their ability to attend appointments, receive regular checkups and access specialized care. Consequently, preventive care and early interventions are delayed or missed, leading to poorer health outcomes in the long run.
Language barriers, alongside cultural biases and disparities, also pose a significant challenge to accessing quality health care. Limited English proficiency can hinder effective communication between patients and health care providers, impacting the accuracy of diagnoses, treatment plans and medication management. Access to qualified interpreters or bilingual health care professionals is crucial to ensuring proper understanding and culturally appropriate care for diverse populations.
Minority populations, especially those with unique cultural practices and beliefs, may face discrimination, stereotyping or a lack of understanding from health care providers, resulting in inadequate care, mistrust and reluctance to seek medical help. Culturally competent health care providers who respect and understand the backgrounds of their patients are essential in overcoming these biases and delivering equitable care.
Health Equity Efforts to Address Disparities in Health Care
Efforts to achieve health equity are crucial in improving outcomes for minority populations and reducing disparities in health care. Progress can be made toward ensuring equal access and outcomes for all individuals by addressing the underlying factors contributing to these disparities.
What is Health Equity?
Health equity refers to the principle of fairness in health care, where everyone can attain their highest level of health. Initiatives and policies have been implemented to reduce health disparities and promote health equity.
One notable example is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which aimed to expand access to health care coverage and reduce insurance disparities. The ACA has provided insurance options for millions of previously uninsured individuals, including many from minority communities, improving their access to essential health care services.
Furthermore, initiatives such as ALICE Lives Here and Thrive United 365 focus on improving health equity by addressing the specific needs of individuals living under the ALICE threshold. These initiatives aim to provide support and resources to help ALICE households access affordable health care, nutritious food and other vital services necessary for their well-being.
Addressing Health Disparities in DC & Surrounding Areas
United Way NCA recognizes the importance of access to quality health care and wellness resources for ALICE households to thrive. In our efforts to address health disparities in the DC and surrounding areas, we have undertaken various initiatives:
- Affordable health care solutions: United Way NCA works toward increasing access to affordable health care options for individuals and families, particularly those from marginalized communities. We advocate for policies that expand insurance coverage and improve affordability, including through our affordable prescription partnership with SingleCare.
- Nutrition and wellness programs: The number of ALICE families experiencing food insufficiency have remained elevated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing the impact of nutrition on overall health, United Way NCA supports programs that promote healthy eating habits and provide access to nutritious food. We aim to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities related to nutrition by addressing food insecurity and promoting healthy lifestyle choices.
- Mental health support: United Way NCA acknowledges the importance of mental health in overall well-being. We collaborate with partners to ensure that mental health services and resources are accessible to individuals and families in need, including initiatives to reduce stigma, increase awareness and provide support for mental health challenges faced by minority populations.
- Partnerships: United Way NCA actively collaborates with various organizations, health care providers and community stakeholders to address health disparities. By fostering partnerships, we leverage collective resources and expertise to implement comprehensive solutions that address the unique health care needs of minority communities.
Through these efforts, United Way NCA and its partners strive to create a more equitable health care system that supports the well-being of all individuals, irrespective of their background or socioeconomic status.
Health Awareness in Conclusion
These disparities in health care have profound implications for the well-being, life expectancy and economic stability of marginalized populations. To create a more equitable health care system, we must take action and promote health awareness.
We can make a difference by supporting initiatives and policies to reduce health care disparities, including advocating for equal access to health care coverage, backing programs that tackle social determinants of health and forging partnerships that prioritize the well-being of underserved communities. By spreading awareness, engaging in meaningful conversations and actively supporting organizations dedicated to health equity, we can contribute to positive change, together.
Taking the next step involves finding valuable resources and getting involved. Consider engaging with organizations like United Way NCA and other community-based initiatives that help individuals contribute to health equity efforts. Through donating, volunteering and connecting with these organizations, we can play a part in creating a health care system that is fair and accessible to all.
Together, let us LIVE UNITED in our commitment to health equity and work toward a future where individuals, regardless of background, have the same opportunities for quality health care and the chance to lead a healthy life. When none are ignored, all will thrive.