KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Study: Racial Health Disparities Cost $229 Billion From 2003-2006

"Racial health disparities cost the United States $229 billion between 2003 and 2006 - money that could help cover an overhaul of the nation's health care system, according to a new report by Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland researchers," The Baltimore Sun reports. "Minorities are generally sicker and more likely than whites to die of numerous diseases, and until now, medical experts and advocates fighting to close those gaps have made their pleas on moral grounds. But the new figures aim to break down the issue into dollars and cents at a time when everyone is trying to figure out how to rein in soaring health care costs." During an announcement of the study findings, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the statistics "stunning and shocking."

But some say the figures may overestimate potential savings: "It's long been known that rates of disease are worse for minorities than for whites. It's less clear how to fix these gaps. … The issue is complex and the cause of the disparities is not completely known. Most researchers say factors such as unequal access to health care, poverty, and even genetics all play a role. While the study puts a dollar figure on how these discrepancies result in higher medical costs, the researchers do not offer specific examples of how to fix these gaps beyond the concept of a health care overhaul" (Brewington, 9/18).

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