Patient who thanks his doctor

The short answer to this question is probably, but it might not be for the reasons you think.

Minority populations in the U.S. are more likely to suffer from certain chronic illness compared to non-minority populations, and the real issue lies in access to healthcare.

According to a survey of 25 HealthTap doctors, 78% believe the biggest barrier to minority access to high-quality care is low socioeconomic status.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees.

The 2015 U.S. Census revealed African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians are more likely to live at or below the poverty level and have a lower household income compared with their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

According to HealthTap’s doctors, having a lower socioeconomic status can prevent minority access to quality care in 2 key ways.

Chronic care costs

Minority populations in the U.S. are among the most chronically ill.

Mexican-Americans and American Indians suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes. In fact, the Pima people of Arizona have one of the highest diabetes rates in the world. Pacific Islanders documented the highest number of chronic Hepatitis B cases in the U.S. in 2014, while African Americans suffer from higher death rates due to heart disease and cancer.

Treatment for chronic illness is on the rise in the U.S. Chronic disease management now costs Americans $3.3 trillion annually, up from $1.1 trillion in 2016.

This rising cost for individuals is seen in the mounting price of insulin. Which is a necessity to treat one of the major illnesses minorities are more likely to suffer from.

The cost of insulin today is 10 times higher than 20 years ago. Between 2009 and 2017, the insulin Humalog went from $92.70 to $274.70.

With increased risk of chronic illness and lower household incomes, minorities often can’t afford to access the frequent, expensive treatments and monthly doctor’s visits required to effectively treat themselves. Dr. Mikhail Khodarkovskiy has seen this first hand, those with lower incomes often “postpone their office visits and come to the ER with complications from their conditions” that require more expensive treatment options.

With the average ER cost at $1233, minorities shouldn’t feel the need to resort to emergency rooms as their only viable option to treat lifelong, chronic illnesses.

Inferior insurance

As Dr. Derrick Lonsdale notes, the highest quality of care is preventative care. Some chronic conditions, like type 2 diabetes and obesity, and the more severe complications of chronic illnesses, like diabetic neuropathy, can largely be reduced by early screening and lifestyle changes.

Therapy for cancer and heart disease can start in the beginning stages of disease if early screenings are done. African Americans, for example, develop colorectal cancer earlier than white populations. They should be screened at least 5 years earlier than other populations, as Dr. Jeffery Crespin notes.

One of the reasons minorities often don’t screen early, adopt preventive care, or even visit the doctor for regular checkups is because they have higher uninsured rates than white populations.

Between 7.8-22.6% of minorities have no health insurance while only 6.3% of white populations in the U.S are uninsured.

If you’re not insured, health costs soar and you’re less likely to seek care. Especially if you’re already making a smaller household income and more likely to live below the poverty line. Minorities are more often victims to this vicious cycle.

Many of the chronic illnesses they are more likely to suffer from can be effectively treated with early prevention and intervention. But, they can’t afford this kind of care due to a lack of insurance and the high health costs that brings.

Virtual care closes the access gap

The news isn’t all bad, as virtual care is an impactful solution to the challenges in access faced by minorities.

Though far from fully closed, “digital divide” is closing—over 75% of African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos own a smartphone. What do they use their phone for the most? Looking up health-related information.

Virtual care can help cut across socioeconomic barriers, it’s often affordable regardless of a person’s insurance coverage. Patients don’t have to worry about transportation costs or high copays. If they suffer from chronic illnesses, their doctor is easily accessible through their phone 24/7. This increase access to care and checkups can heavily reduce costly visits to urgent care or the ER. Dr. John D. Berryman sees virtual care as a way for patients to affordably and routinely manage their personal health, without jeopardizing the quality of care.

If you need access to affordable, high quality primary care, talk to a doctor at HealthTap.

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Hannah Dennison

Content Marketing Manager and Writer at HealthTap. Lover of all words, most books, and the Oxford comma.

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