#NNPA BLACKPRESS Racial Divide of Coronavirus Is Real, So Are Innovations That Can Help

By Allyson Y. Schwartz and Martha A. Dawson

News about the novel coronavirus, which has now claimed over 100,000 American lives, is all around us. A subtext told in this reporting is the painful story of the pandemic’s devastating effect on people of color.

While coronavirus does not know boundaries of race, income, or ethnicity, its disproportionate impact on minority communities is unmistakable and points to a deeper crisis of racial disparities in health care that have persisted long before the onset of this disease.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in Atlanta found that, in a cohort of 305 adults hospitalized with coronavirus, 83 percent were black. Similarly, in Washington, D.C., 80 percent of lives lost to coronavirus are black. Public health officials report that Latinx populations are overrepresented in coronavirus deaths, too.

There will be lessons gained from this pandemic, giving us the insights and motivation to build on new ways to deliver care. A renewed call to confront racial inequality in health care should be at the top of the list both for policymakers, the educational system, and health care itself.

As a former member of Congress who represented Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city with a minority population of over 60 percent (Schwartz), and the President of the National Black Nurses Association, a health system administrator and educator of more than 40 years (Dawson), this is a subject close to our hearts.

Last year, we participated in a convening on racial disparities in health care hosted by Better Medicare Alliance that brought together representatives from the National Minority Quality Forum, NAACP, National Medical Association, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and other health equity leaders.

While we could not have predicted the havoc that coronavirus would wreak on our health care system the following year, we find ourselves reflecting on the solutions discussed that can be brought to bear today.

This convening crystalized what we have already known: racial inequities elsewhere in our culture manifest today in the form of unconscious and conscious bias by health providers, lack of representation of minorities in high-level health professions, and lagging outcomes for minorities across the health care system.

Our institutions in health care are not powerless to take on these inequities – many already are. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) explained at the convening the steps being taken to ensure greater diversity in the physician workforce, while providers like ChenMed and Oak Street Health are directly engaging minority communities and leveraging supplemental benefits to address health disparities.

We believe that Medicare Advantage – the managed care option in Medicare where more than 24 million seniors and Americans with disabilities receive coverage – highlights successful remedies for the inequities in health care that are deeply felt amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Increasing numbers of racial minorities are choosing Medicare Advantage for their health care needs. 57 percent of Latinx Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage and black seniors represent a higher proportion of beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage than in Traditional Medicare.