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What Good is Insurance if Healthcare System Discriminates?

March 25, 2009

Portland, OR - More than a quarter of Oregon residents are non-white, and groups that represent them are banding together to seek solutions to a persistent problem in the health care system. Members of the new HealthCare Equality Project say the poor and members of minority groups receive unequal medical access and treatment.

Health care reform is before the state legislature this session, and the racial and ethnic minority groups want to make sure they're included in any plan that's approved. They've formed the Equality Project coalition as part of a national campaign for health care equality. The group contends that people are often treated differently in the health care system, based on their incomes - and JoAnn Bowman, executive director of Oregon Action, says that when there's also a racial difference, the white person gets better care.

"You would get offered more tests; you would spend more time with the doctor; and it's just the way our health care system has been operating for way too long. Some assumptions are made about people of color that just aren't true."

The Equality Projectsays the existence of language and cultural barriers is not always intentional, but they are common - and can be intimidating.

Joseph Santos-Lyons, project manager with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, says it's surprising how many Oregonians don't realize how diverse their state has become - which is another reason for the new coalition.

"We know that, as Asians and Pacific Islanders, we can only achieve so much just on our own, and that we need to build strong relationships and allies amongst other communities, particularly other communities of color, to be able to do the joint policy work together."

The HealthCare Equality Project is made up of civil rights and women's groups, labor unions and even some doctors and health care workers. Their view is that it's not enough to insure all people, if the system doesn't allow all people access to quality health care.

According to U.S. Census data, some 26 percent of Oregonians are non-white, and almost half a million speak a language other than English at home.

Coalition members include the Oregon League of Minority Voters, the Urban League of Portland, and Health Care for America Now.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR