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Study Finds Racial Inequalities Cost U.S. Health System Over $50 Billion a Year
Date:9/17/2009

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Racial inequalities in health care access and quality added more than $50 billion a year in direct U.S. health care costs over a four-year period according to a study released today by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

In this study, researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland found that over 30 percent of direct medical expenditures for African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics were excess costs linked to health inequalities. Between 2003 and 2006, these excess costs were $229.4 billion.

Further, the researchers estimated that the indirect costs of racial inequalities associated with illness and premature death amounted to more than a trillion dollars over the same time period. Eliminating these inequalities would have saved the U.S. economy a grand total of $1.24 trillion dollars. The study noted that this four-year $1.24 trillion expenditure is more than the annual gross domestic product of India, the world's 12th largest economy.

"This study shows that society has been paying a steep price in actual dollars and cents for racial and ethnic health disparities and unequal access to quality health care," said Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center. "It also indicates that eliminating these racial inequalities will improve both the health status of our fellow citizens as well as our nation's fiscal health."

"Reducing minority health disparities is a top priority for the Obama administration, for the Department of Health and Human Services, and for me personally as Secretary," emphasized The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius. "There's no single explanation for the disparities outlined in today's report. And there's no single solution either. But we know that the two biggest contributors to these disparities are a lack of access to insurance and a lack of access to care," the Secretary added. "Fixing these problems is a big part of why this administration is so committed to passing health insurance reform this year."

Previous studies have established that minority Americans experience poorer than average health outcomes from cradle to grave. People of color are significantly more likely to die as infants, have higher rates of chronic disease and disability, and shorter life spans.

The costs measured in the Joint Center study include those directly associated with providing care to a sicker and more disadvantaged population, as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity, lost wages, absenteeism, use of family leave for avoidable illnesses and lower quality of life. In addition, the study measured the costs of premature death in the form of forgone wages, lost tax revenues, additional services and benefits for the families of the deceased and lower quality of life for survivors.

Copies of the study can be downloaded by going to: www.jointcenter.org

Copies of the health reform bill assessments, with a focus on implications for racial and ethnic minorities, can be accessed by going to: www.jointcenter.org

The Joint Center Health Policy Institute is generously supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the nation's leading research and public policy institutions and the only one whose work focuses primarily on issues of particular concern to African Americans and other people of color. For more information about the Joint Center, please visit our Web site at http://www.jointcenter.org


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SOURCE Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
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