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Report: Disparities in Health Care Persist for Ore.'s Communities of Color

More than 17,000 children are excluded from health care under the Health Care for All Oregon Children Act, according to a new report. (jencu/flickr)
More than 17,000 children are excluded from health care under the Health Care for All Oregon Children Act, according to a new report. (jencu/flickr)
September 1, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — From access to treatment, racial disparities still exist in Oregon's healthcare system. According to a new report from the Oregon Health Equity Alliance, many nonwhite communities face higher rates of infant mortality, chronic disease and reduced life expectancy as a result of these disparities.

The report said that 14 out of 15 recent studies found evidence of bias from healthcare professionals against people of color. For example, some professionals believed African-American patients had a higher pain tolerance.

State Representative Lew Frederick, D-Portand, said biases like this can lead to a lack of trust in communities of color.

"That's completely inappropriate, but it's something that would obviously mean that if you went in to see a doctor and they were not giving you things for pain, you would begin to lose trust in that doctor but not know why,” Frederick said. "So these are the kinds of things that we need to really address."

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Causa Oregon, the Urban League of Portland and other social justice groups contributed to the report.

According to the study, lack of funding is fueling these disparities. Ashley Thirstrup, director of youth and educations services at Native American Youth and Family Center - which also helped with the report - said the state could save money if it invested in things such as community-based mental health services.

"The more upstream that we can do to invest in community mental health and drug and alcohol treatment before people are incarcerated or hospitalized, we'll actually see that return on investment,” Thirstrup said. "Other states that have been able to do this have seen a $2 return for each dollar that's invested."

The report suggested Oregon bring in more diverse health-care workers, create more culturally appropriate services, and solutions to cover some of the 383,000 uninsured Oregonians.

Frederick said public health has been underfunded for decades. Measure 97 on the November ballot, which would raise the corporate tax to 2.5 percent on companies that make more than $25 million in Oregon sales, would add an estimated $3 billion annually to the state's budget.

Opponents say the cost of that tax would be passed on to consumers. But, Frederick said, the current funding model isn't working.

"Since 1991, we've been trying to build a state on the cheap,” he said. "We know that that doesn't work but we now are struggling to find a way to actually address it so that we're effective. I think Measure 97 gives us an effective approach to really dealing with those issues."


Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR