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Report: Skin Color Determines Healthcare Access in OR

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July 16, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. - If you are an African-American, Native American or Latino in Oregon, you are more likely to go without health insurance – and are even more likely to die, years sooner – than white Oregonians. Non-whites are a growing voice for more fairness in health care. A new study says they have a lot to be alarmed about, with higher infant mortality, more chronic health conditions but less medical care, and greater numbers in poverty and uninsured.

Jo Ann Bowman, executive director of the advocacy group Oregon Action, calls the disparities "huge."

"No question - race and ethnicity play a large role in the quality of the health care you receive; the types of tests offered to you; and the amount of time the health care provider spends with you when you go for a visit. This report clearly outlines that there is definitely a difference."

Bowman says a more diverse medical workforce, more cultural training and certified interpreters are needed in Oregon.

On the national front, a bill in Congress would do that. It is called the "Health Equity and Accountability Act." However, Bowman is concerned that political infighting could keep it from being included as part of the country's major health care reform.

As the state takes big steps to make its own health care reforms through the new Oregon Health Authority, Bowman warns it must not shortchange the 630,000 people of color who live in Oregon.

"That's a significant number of people who aren't getting their needs met in our current system. If we're really going to provide 'healthcare for all,' what this report does is really highlight the fact that we can't just say, 'Everybody has a healthcare card' and think we've fixed the problem."

The study, "Unequal Lives," is available at http://healthcareforamericanow.org/site/content/unequal_lives. The bill in Congress is HR 3090.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR