Musing on MLK

Today, many Americans will be enjoying a day off work in observance of Martin Luther King.  Among these, some will be occupied in the annual tradition of trying to guess what the good Doctor would have said about current health issues if he was still alive today.

What Martin Luther King would have thought about President Obama’s health care reform requirement that all Americans buy health care insurance?

Sarah Palin wrote that, “He fought for liberty and equality because he knew they were God-given and he knew that no government should be empowered to thwart our freedom.”  The implication, being that King would have been against health care reform because it would be a blow to freedom.

Others have complained that the bills don’t go far enough towards King’s vision of equality.  They point out that millions will remain uninsured. Expensive health plans could hurt middle class workers, and the subsidies don’t go far enough towards helping poor families.  They are probably right to a certain extent – King would have pushed for a bill that did more to help poor and working families, and a bill that covered everyone.

So what do we think? Certainly Dr King would have wanted to see improved access to care for minority populations.

Health disparities are well documented in minority populations such as African AmericansNative AmericansAsian Americans, and Latinos. When compared to European Americans, minority groups have higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer health outcomes. Minorities also have higher rates of cardiovascular diseaseHIV/AIDS, and infant mortality than whites.  Additionally:

  • African Americans have higher rates of mortality than any other racial or ethnic group for 8 of the top 10 causes of death. For example, the cancer incidence rate among African Americans is 10% higher than among European Americans.
  • U.S. Latinos have higher rates of death from diabetes, liver disease, and infectious diseases than do non-Latinos.
  • Adult African Americans and Latinos have approximately twice the risk as European Americans of developing diabetes.
  • Native Americans suffer from higher rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza, and alcoholism than does the rest of the U.S. population.

In some cases these inequalities are a result of income and a lack of health insurance.. Almost two-thirds of Hispanic adults aged 19 to 64 were uninsured at some point during the past year, a rate more than triple that of working-age white adults. One-third of working-age black were also uninsured or experienced a gap in coverage during the year. Compared with white women, black women are twice as likely and Hispanic women are nearly three times as likely to be uninsured.

A patients’ race also influences physician prescribing. Numerous studies have found racial differences in prescribing and treatment patterns for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, cancer, pneumonia and diabetes.

Race has played a major role in shaping systems of medical care in the United States. The divided health system persists, in spite of federal efforts to end it. We hope that those in a position to change such inequalities take today, to reflect how such change can be implemented.

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