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Mon Jan 20, 2020, 09:11 AM

On King Day, attack rampant health inequality

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides Americans with an opportunity to pause and reflect on the civil rights movement —the progress made and the challenges that still linger. As King recognized, there was one form of inequality that was most shocking and inhumane but is continually ignored: injustice in health care. Fifty two years after his death, we have made significant strides in scaling the mountain to health equity, but the accompanying fight to ensure that every individual has a fair opportunity to achieve their optimal level of health is shaping up to be one of the defining challenges of our time.

One of the major barriers to accomplishing this goal is the lingering presence of health disparities — the differences in health and health care between population groups that occur across the life course and in many dimensions, including race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, location, gender, disability status and sexual orientation.

We know that discrimination still exists, both in plain sight and in more subtle ways. It festers in institutions and systems that have been slow to change. It manifests quietly in unconscious biases and entrenched perceptions. The hurt it causes to communities of color, other vulnerable populations, as well as to our society persists. Members of racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher mortality rates and earlier onset of diseases; 83,000 African Americans alone die prematurely each year owing to health disparities. They also receive lower-quality health care leading to worse health-care outcomes.

Collectively, racial and ethnic disparities in health cost the United States an estimated $300 billion each year.


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