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Health Care “Color Factor” Assessed in PA

June 23, 2008

Harrisburg, PA - Could a person's skin color be linked to the quantity and/or quality of medical care that he or she receives? A new report shows African-Americans are 25 percent more likely to die from cancer than whites. They're also less likely to get quality treatment for chronic conditions, and have a higher infant mortality rate.

The report is a joint effort of the NAACP and Service Employees' International Union (SEIU). It cites economic and geographic segregation as reasons that "systems of separate and unequal care" have been created, affecting Hispanic and low-income Americans as well as African Americans.

Linda Graham, an African American and a member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, sees her father's case as an example. He has health insurance but, when Graham took him to the hospital with a swollen leg, her own medical background made it obvious to her that he did not receive the care he needed.

"I could tell that it was fluid retention, and she dismissed him and told him, 'Maybe it was gout, maybe not,' and sent us home."

The report says African Americans and Hispanics also are less likely to have health insurance, and more likely to face barriers to having a "regular source of healthcare" than whites. It concludes that the racial gap is fixable, however, recommending that health insurance be made available to everyone, and that more health education be provided to all patients. After Graham's father's encounter, she concurs.

"We're a great country, and we're struggling with an issue like this. I just don't think we should struggle like this anymore."

A few days later, Graham adds, her father had a heart attack, which he survived. Critics of the report say it doesn't take into account lifestyle choices that could also explain differences in quality and quantity of healthcare. The full report, "Lifeline to Health Equity: Policies for Real Health Care Reform," is available online at www.seiu.org.

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - PA