A majority of Americans agree that The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light long-standing inequalities in health care that disproportionately harm communities of color. I am one of them. According to CDCracial and ethnic minority groups across the United States experience higher rates of illness and death from diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and even childbearing.
My home state of Delaware was no exception to this health care disparity. Although ranked sixth best state for health care quality by US News and World Report in 2019, Delaware has struggled to provide similar health care to minority residents as it does to white residents. For example, African American and Hispanic men were more likely to be diagnosed later and die earlier from a chronic disease compared to their white counterparts. Not only that, but in all three counties of Delaware, African American babies have a infant mortality rate significantly higher than white babies.
I have seen how difficult it is for members of majority minority communities to access quality health care. They are more likely to live in poverty, in heavily polluted areas, and with substandard education systems and housing. These social determinants of health, exacerbated by structural racism and limited access to health care, put these communities at higher risk of developing health problems.
A 2017 report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists highlighted just how bad the negative effects of pollution really are. When they compared residents of Delaware’s Industrial Corridor, a collection of working-class neighborhoods such as Marshalton, with nearby affluent Greenville, they found that those who lived in the Industrial Corridor had a 33% more likely to die from cancer. Marshalton is a stone’s throw from the district I represent. It is why I to refuse stand idly by while the people who trust me to improve their lives suffer.
As chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, I helped create a task force that specifically studies racial disparities in our state. It can be hard work, but fortunately our caucus is not alone in the fight to improve health care for minorities in our state. The fight against cancer is proof of this. Cancer is a disease that affects minorities at a much higher rate than whitess and barely two decades ago, Delaware had one of the highest cancer death rates in the country, according to NPR. However, a program called Screening for Life has been introduced which pays residents to get screened for cancer and “If cancer is discovered, [they] will also cover up to two years of treatment. The results speak for themselves. When compared to 2003-2007, the 2013-2017 period saw a 26% drop in cancer-related deaths among black men.
There are more victories, but there is still a lot to do. If we are to improve the overall health of minorities in this state, two issues need to be addressed. The first is the lack of health insurance among people of color. In Delaware, about 6.6% of the state’s population is uninsured, a figure that has tended to increase over the past three years. The second element of the equation is to restore the confidence of minorities in the health system. A study conducted by Langer Research Associates found that only 14% of Black Americans and 34% of Latinx Americans had confidence in the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine – a figure that becomes even more alarming given how the pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities.
Delaware’s success in reducing minority cancer deaths is a massive victory for our state and proves that we have what it takes to make even greater progress toward ending the health care disparity. However, we must not become complacent. I will continue to fight for these citizens, and I count on the rest of the state to join me. Their life depends on it.
Representative Kendra Johnson represents the 5e District.