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When insurance exchanges come online, many new healthcare consumers will be members of minority populations with distinct needs.
Minority outreach is an important long-term need for another reason. As much as 98% of the population growth in major metropolitan areas is occuring in minority groups, according to Witt/Kieffer.
"The demographics of the United States are changing," says Gary Puckrein, president of the National Minority Quality Forum in Washington, D.C. "What is now thought of as a minority with about 40% of the market will be the majority of the American market within the next few decades. Understanding these populations is important because they have historically consumed healthcare differently."
QUALITY OF CARE
An important opportunity in healthcare reform is to improve access and quality of care, both of which are needed for underserved populations. The National Healthcare Disparities Report 2010, published by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, gauges the quality of and access to care among different populations.
The study found that African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives received worse care than whites for about 40% of the core measures; Asians received worse care than whites for about 20% of core measures; and Hispanics received worse care than non-Hispanic whites for about 60% of core measures. African Americans also had worse access to care for one-third of core measures; Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives for 20% of core measures; and Hispanics for 83% of core measures.
For example, one core measure tracks hospital patients with heart failure who received recommended hospital care.
In certain parts of the country, it's difficult to get an appointment with a primary care physician. Access has gotten so bad that the state of Maryland is creating Health Enterprise Zones offering tax credits and financial incentives to bring doctors and other care providers into underserved areas, especially those where minority populations reside.
"The sustainability of our healthcare system will depend on our ability to address healthcare disparity," says Sinsi Hernández-Cancio, health equity director with Families USA in Washington, D.C.
Individuals in minority populations are generally more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure, that are expensive to treat, can be life shortening and have a major impact on quality of life and productivity. Environmental factors and issues related to low incomes can also contribute to chronic conditions in minority communities, acting as a barrier to healthcare.
Minority populations have historically underconsumed healthcare services, and often forgo or cannot gain access to preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions. Instead, they wait-either by choice or circumstance-until their condition is acute and advanced. This lack of care creates higher rates of hospitalization and higher than necessary costs when individuals do seek care.
Insurance coverage alone is unlikely to be enough to address these issues. Minorities with health insurance are still less likely to get treated and be compliant when they have a chronic condition, even when they do receive treatment, says Puckrein.