Cincinnati Business Courier | Health disparities affect businesses’ bottomline

Featured in the Cincinnati Business Courier

Renee Mahaffey Harris
President & CEO The Health Gap

Our nation has heard a lot about health disparities and social determinants of health since the start of the pandemic. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation defines health disparity as “a higher burden of illness, injury, disability, or mortality experienced by one group relative to another.” The US Labor Statistics reports that by the end of this decade 41% of the nation’s workforce will be composed of Black, Latinx and other minority populations. Equality and justice are everybody’s business. 

Health disparities impact every aspect of society. This includes the business community, because healthier people, families, communities result in a healthier workplace which directly impacts every business’ bottomline. Addressing inequities can seem like an insurmountable and daunting endeavor, but it is necessary. There has been minimal improvement in health disparities since it was first identified by the Health & Human Services Secretary in 1985, despite the work of many government and non-profit organizations. 

Across socioeconomics, people of color do not enjoy the same healthcare as America’s white population, yet they have higher rates of comorbidities of several chronic diseases. Here are a few staggering facts that have consistently been concluded in numerous government and nonprofit research studies:

  • African American cancer patients were 63% more likely than White patients to receive no medication for pain relief. 
  • Latinx patients with broken bones were 64% less likely than White patients to receive adequate pain treatment.
  • African American women with health insurance are 40% less likely than White women with health insurance to be recommended for cardiac catheterization.
  • 75% of White Americans reported their doctor involved them in decision-making as much as they wanted; just over half (56%) of Asian Americans and 65% of Latinx reported similar experiences. 
  • A 2016 study of white medical students/trainees surveyed for a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that one-half of them held one or more of the following false beliefs – “Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s.” “Black people’s skin is thicker than white people’s.” “Black people’s blood coagulates more quickly than white people’s.”

These head-shaking, nonsensical results are true for many in your organization’s workforce, for many of your colleagues. Aside from the interpersonal, there are financial incentives for businesses to join the fight to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities. According to the 2003 report Why Companies Are Making Health Disparities Their Business: The Business Case and Practical Strategies by the National Business Group on Health, possible incentives include a decrease of direct and indirect healthcare costs. The report cites “the appropriate use of analgesics can increase patient recovery, reduce unnecessary suffering among some minority patients and may increase direct and indirect costs by increasing hospital stays, doctor visits, and the number of missed or low-productivity work days.” How much of a difference in your organization’s bottom line would this one shift in health care make?

It has been proven time and again through research that health disparities are linked to our country’s structural and institutional systems, including housing discrimination, neighborhood proximity to toxic areas, food deserts, higher uninsured rates, and access to quality education. Imagine for a moment the psychological distress of being marginalized, dealing with racial microaggressions and instances of overt racism consistently through one’s life. These factors negatively impact the physical and mental health of people of color and are further compounded by persons of color’s distrust of the medical community due to the statistics listed earlier.

For the proverbial even playing ground to take shape, we must address the gap in health disparities that stem from social determinants of health. Our communities will flourish and businesses will prosper as a result. It is my hope that Cincinnati businesses will actively join the movement to eliminate health disparities.

Sources: 

Why Companies Are Making Health Disparities Their Business: The Business Case and Practical Strategies by National Business Group on Health, minorityhealth.hhs.gov/assets/pdf/checked/business_case.pdf, 2003

How we fail black patients in pain, Association of American Medical Colleges  aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-fail-black-patients-pain, 2020.

Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/disparities-in-health-and-health-care-five-key-questions-and-answers