Twenty Years After Release of Report Highlighting Systemic Racism in Medicine, Little has Changed

By Consumers For Quality Care, on March 2, 2022

Twenty Years After Release of Report Highlighting Systemic Racism in Medicine, Little has Changed

Twenty years after “Unequal Treatment,” a report by a panel of experts that pointed to longstanding systemic racism as a major reason for the nation’s deeply entrenched health disparities, little has changed, according to a special report from STAT.

Initially, the report sent shock waves through the medical community. CQC Board member, physician, and former Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen commented about the report during an April 2002 Congressional hearing, saying “for us as people of color, we are just not going to be sick and tired anymore,” pushing for Department of Health and Human Services to address these racial discrepancies.

Statistics show Black Americans continue to die up to five years earlier than white Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2019, some 70,000 Black Americans — nearly 200 per day — died prematurely, many from chronic conditions like heart disease that could have been better treated.

“There hasn’t been a lot of progress in 20 years,” said Brian Smedley, a health equity and policy researcher with the Urban Institute who served as the report’s lead editor. “We are still largely seeing what some would call medical apartheid.”

The report’s authors point to a multitude of reasons why racial disparities in health care have still not been fully addressed: our national discomfort with confronting the long-taboo topic of race; widespread denial among health care providers; complacency; a lack of consistent political will to eliminate inequities; health disparities work being elbowed out of the way when other priorities arise; a fragmented health care system that isn’t amenable to universal solutions; and a dearth of quality racial and ethnic data needed to track whether efforts to end disparities are working.

Communities of color deserve access to quality, affordable health care, plain and simple. CQC urges lawmakers to put away trivial excuses and implement real measures to address racial disparities in our health care system.