New York spends approximately $24 billion a year in treating preventable illnesses among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations, reports the New York Post. The high costs are related to hospital and emergency care for issues such as diabetes, asthma, HIV, obesity, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
But while minorities are the focus of the excessive spending, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah points out it is a shortage of doctors and a lack of preventative care in minority neighborhoods that has led to the problem.
The disparities are not unique to New York though. According to HealthReform.gov, minorities across the country suffer from higher rates of preventable diseases. The need for universal health care reform is evident, says the government, with a focus on preventative medicine and improved access to care.
“Health disparities severely hinder economic development in minority communities and have a negative consequence for the economy at large,” said Shah, who indicates the issues among Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks are exacerbated by poor nutrition, lack of exercise habits and higher crime rates.
According to the New York Health Department, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks had a mortality rate for asthma four times that of non-Hispanic whites and 13 times that of Asians. Non-Hispanic blacks also surpassed other minorities in areas related to diabetes mortality and infant mortality.
For Hispanics, infant mortality rates in New York were reported at 4.5 percent compared to 4.2 percent for non-Hispanic whites, and diabetes mortality was approximately 30 percent, compared to 62 percent for non-Hispanic blacks.
Across the nation, Hispanics were the least likely minority to take advantage of colorectal cancer screenings, and Latinas were disproportionately affected by cervical cancer at 2 times the rate of non-Hispanic white women.
The disparities, according to the N.Y. health officials, could be addressed by bringing in more doctors to immigrant and minority communities, and focusing on prevention rather than treatment and emergency intervention.
“We can reduce hospitalization through prevention and help people better manage their chronic conditions,” said Yvonne Graham, associate commissioner for minority health.
The shift toward preventative care is part of New York’s program to overhaul the existing Medicaid coverage plans in place. Not only will community-based prevention programs be implemented, the state is making an effort to improve translation services for minority populations.
New York is also focusing on youth health, according to Shah, who says the minority health panel will create services such as those allowing school gym access even when classes are not in session.
“Our ability to develop a sustainable 21st century health-care system depends on reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities . . . We have the tools at our disposal,” said the Health Commissioner.