Kuete B. Health disparities: A closeup of the vulnerable lives in medicine. HPHR. 2023;77. https://doi.org/10.54111/0001/YYY6
There are a wide variety of problems in healthcare today that are intertwined with social inequality. Many of these fall into the category of healthcare disparities; these are systematic differences in healthcare availability that heavily affect minorities/unprivileged communities. Individuals affected by them are mostly people of color, those of low income, and those a part of the LGBTQ+ community. As defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), health disparities are higher mortality rates, due to increased contraction of diseases and the prevalence of their negative effects on a particular group. As noted, health disparities strongly deter ethical values of society and human rights.
Over the years attention to healthcare disparities has grown, however, the issue remains prominent. Arguably, these disparities continue to exist because of the lack of accessibility to healthcare for these affected communities.
For instance, Native American village communities, such as those in Northern Arizona tribes, have to travel long distances to reach common hospitals. As a result, they have greater risks of falling critically ill. Without any medical treatment nearby, their mortality rates increase in response. These designated village areas work to preserve the remaining Native populations in the U.S., however, steps must be taken to mitigate the harmful impacts of this disparity. Low levels of accessible health services for any group are problematic, and at a continuous rate, this problem may significantly contradict the purpose of maintaining these villages.
Lack of insurance affordability is another large concern in healthcare that carries multiple financial problems for certain individuals. To reference, Medicaid has strict requirements that undocumented immigrants and those just above the income threshold cannot meet. This amounts to more medically uninsured people, who often seek health services in the wrong settings. A recurring example is that “they may utilize a hospital’s emergency department to receive care for illnesses that could be treated by a primary care physician outside of the emergency room”, says an MD. One drawback of being uninsured is that a single hospital visit could result in a crippling medical bill that would harm their financial and social well-being. An unpaid medical bill would negatively affect their credit record, which in turn will render them unable to purchase a house or car. This causes instability to their livelihood as a whole, elongating the social gap between them, and those that aren’t not prone to these complications. This also perpetuates the cycle of poverty in low-income communities that already have limited access to financial and social resources. The 2010 Obamacare Act did aim to solve this problem as it provides cheaper healthcare insurance for low-income individuals who may not qualify for Medicaid. Although the number of uninsured individuals has decreased significantly from that year till now, the case is still a work in progress. In regards to these two situations, believing in social justice is acknowledging that everyone should have similar access to healthcare services.
The powers in control of these factors should work in the favor of everyone, not discriminating against people based on their color, financial status, language, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, etc.