July 28, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
COVID-19 took our country and the world by surprise. Unsurprisingly to many of us, the virus has affected the minority community, especially the Black community, at a detrimental level compared to the white community. Though this pandemic is a tragedy, we must take advantage of the new light being shone on the health care disparities facing the Black community in America.
It is no secret that Black Americans suffer from a severe lack of affordable, accessible health care in this country. Consequently, because of our country’s systematic racism, Black Americans experience higher levels of infections and serious illnesses compared to any other ethnic group, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem.
In fact, according to Coders Against COVID, in ZIP codes where the population is at least 75 percent white, they had a testing site for 1 in 14,500 people. In ZIP codes where the population is at least 75 percent minorities, there was a testing site for 1 in 23,300 people.
If and when Black Americans finally receive their test, they are much more likely to be hit with a large, surprise bill.
According to the Century Foundation, the average family spends 11 percent of their overall income per year on health care, but for Black Americans the average annual cost for health care is almost 20 percent; this includes surprise medical bills that can range anywhere from $50 to $20,000, which can wreck a family financially.
That is why we created the Healthcare Equality Network, a campaign whose mission is to secure quality health care for Black Americans by tackling the health disparities in our country head-on, support federal, state, and local efforts to increase Black access to quality care, and to hold legislators accountable for their inaction.
On June 30, 2020, I participated in the Healthcare Equality Town Hall with Rev. Al Sharpton, Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust Chair Rep. Robin Kelly and other leaders in the Black community. This virtual town hall gathered almost 100 participants interested in what we can do today to improve the lives of Black Americans.
As CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the only national organization focused on Black women’s health, it was important for me to reveal how COVID-19 testing is affecting Black women’s health and pocketbooks.
When you look at COVID-19, testing is supposed to be without copay, but some people have paid as much as $987 for a test. And this surprise medical billing problem is not new – especially for Black women. There are pregnant women across the country who are often forced to go to out-of-network hospitals and end up facing as much as $40,000 bills – should they survive.
This is absolutely catastrophic, and the root of the problem stems from patients being under- and uninsured. Currently, there is legislation proposed on Capitol Hill that claims to help patients, but in reality, it leaves insurers unpunished for these skinny networks, while causing more and more hospitals to close — keeping the status quo in place.
The time for action is now. We can no longer sit back while Black Americans suffer. We need a good faith effort from Congress to pass meaningful legislation that protects patients from financial ruin and holds insurers accountable. We need legislation that ensures patients are held harmless from surprise medical bills.
In this time of unrest, we must remain focused on improving the lives of Black Americans. We need leaders in Congress and in the White House to hold Big Insurance accountable and to put American patients first.
Linda Goler Blount is the President and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls.
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