Obama and Edwards: Addressing Health Care Disparities

by Dax-Devlon Ross

Lost in the muck and mire of all the talk about “mandates” is the health disparities issue that the health care community has been reluctant, for obvious reasons, to bring to the table. Both the Edwards and Obama campaigns, whose health care plans are being compared at the moment, have sought to address and redress the all-too prevalent problem of access for minorities. As we decide who should win the Democratic nomination, this issue in particular has to be at the forefront of our minds.

From the Edwards website: 

Reduce Health Disparities. People of color are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and less likely to receive timely and effective treatment. Children of African-American mothers are twice as likely to die within their first year. In California, low-income minority neighborhoods have one-third as many doctors, as a share of their population, than other neighborhoods do. Edwards will support medical research into disparities, reduce the pollutions and toxins that disproportionately harm communities of colors, and support translation services to address language barriers. By helping all Americans get insurance, Edwards will also address disparities in health caused by disparities in insurance.  

From the Obama website:  

Tackling disparities in health care. Although all Americans are affected by problems with our health care delivery system, an overwhelming body of evidence demonstrates that certain populations are significantly more likely to receive lower quality health care than others. Minority Americans are less likely to receive early and timely health care for many conditions such as cancer, when such conditions could be treatable. Further, minority patients are less likely to receive recommended care that meets accepted standards of medical practice, which similarly has a negative impact on health outcomes. Other patient populations, including female and rural populations, experience disparities in health care as well. Obama will tackle the root causes of health disparities by addressing differences in access to health coverage and promoting prevention and public health (see below), both of which play a major role in addressing disparities. He will also challenge the medical system to eliminate inequities in health care by requiring hospitals and health plans to collect, analyze and report health care quality for disparity populations and holding them accountable for any differences found; diversifying the workforce to ensure culturally effective care; implementing and funding evidence-based interventions, such as patient navigator programs; and supporting and expanding the capacity of safety-net institutions, which provide a disproportionate amount of care for underserved populations with inadequate funding and technical resources.  http://www.familiesusa.org/assets/pdfs/minority-health-tool-kit/Quick-Facts-Care.pdf 

Two things I noticed:  

1)      Edwards specifically states “people of color” and “African-Americans” while Obama uses the more elusive term, “minority” to describe those his plan aims to assist. Considering Obama’s race, it seems evident that he is particularly cautious about being labeled a “black” Presidential candidate running on “black” issues, even though most of the statistical research his campaign relies on speaks directly to African-American health disparities.

2)      Obama’s language is far more detailed and definitive. It is clear that this is really a priority for his campaign and that he has thought about how to solve these problems. On the other hand, Edwards seems a little too vague in his plans and doesn’t seem to get how deeply these disparities are ingrained in the health care system as a whole.