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Socioeconomic Status Should Not Determine Access to Health Care in America | Opinion

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by Vanessa M. Griffith, Colorado Newsline
August 20, 2022

As a public health equity intern and an African-American woman, I wanted to express my agreement with the findings expressed in Sara Wilson’s Newsline article “High Costs, Systemic Racism Plagues Health Care, Colorado Survey Finds.”

Black and Indigenous Americans and people of color in the United States experience greater health disparities compared to their white counterparts. This is primarily attributed to pervasive institutional racism, which has resulted in several inequities in the areas of education, employment, income, geography and health outcomes. These populations are therefore more likely to forgo treatment for various diseases and injuries. One of the reasons for this concerning trend is their inability to access health care due to its cost.

One disease that is particularly prevalent among Black and Indigenous Americans and people of color is tuberculosis. This respiratory condition is one of the oldest communicable diseases, having persisted for well over two centuries. In fact, evidence of tuberculosis has been recovered from ancient Egyptian mummies. While the number of Americans living with it have declined considerably in recent years, most cases of tuberculosis are found in communities of people of color.

Moreover, treatment for tuberculosis infection requires less medication and a shorter regimen; however, if it is not diagnosed and treated promptly, the infection will progress to potentially fatal disease. Thus, the inability to access health care only serves to perpetuate the disease.

Every American has a fundamental right to affordable and high-quality health care, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The World Health Organization created an ambitious “End TB” initiative, with the goal of reducing the number of people acquiring and dying from tuberculosis (by 90% and 95%, respectively) by 2035. One of the strategies it proposed in order to reach this goal was to eliminate the “catastrophic” health costs to low-income families affected by tuberculosis. Doing this alleviates the financial burden to these individuals and it makes them more amenable to seek treatment for a condition that is easily curable when detected early.

While it is not feasible at this time to completely eradicate health costs, every American has a fundamental right to affordable and high-quality health care, regardless of their socioeconomic status. The fact that those living on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are unable to enjoy this right — despite living in one of the most developed countries in the world — is unacceptable. Indeed, it is a chronic issue that warrants our collective attention, both as a state and as a nation.

Colorado recently spearheaded efforts to extend affordable health care for all state residents with the establishment of the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care and the passage of the Colorado Option — the latter is a health insurance option with lower premiums and quality coverage.

I urge that all other states follow Colorado’s example so that all Americans have access to health care. People should contact their local and state government officials to determine if they support a statewide public health insurance option as well.

Dr. Vanessa M. Griffith is a public health equity intern and aspiring communicable disease epidemiologist who is primarily interested in TB , COVID-19, HIV, and, more recently, monkeypox. Griffith, based in Colorado Springs, is an active-duty service member and senior non-commissioned officer in the United States Army.

This story first appeared in The Colorado Newsline.