Want to Improve Public Health? Eradicate Racism

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared that racism is a serious public health threat directly undermining the well-being of millions of Americans. We agree, and the problem is systemic.

The entire U.S. health care system is rife with inequity, disparity and discrimination. Seeking routine health care can be challenging, depending on where you live and your insurance status. For instance, health care facilities are often not located in marginalized communities because of city planning and development that prioritizes wealthier populations, forcing people to travel long distances to access basic care. As a result, accessing care, particularly specialty care, can be more difficult for underserved populations, specifically in some urban and rural areas where health care resources are limited and more people are uninsured.

Patients, especially those who live with chronic diseases and disabilities, have had firsthand experience with discrimination and the structural barriers tied to location, personal income, employment and insurance status for so long. We believe that their collective experience is essential to changing the system. Together, we can play a key role in shifting attitudes and the environment to defeat the impact of discrimination on people’s health.

The National Health Council and the National Minority Quality Forum issued a Call to Action to address disparities, and many in the patient community are joining us. Fifty-eight NHC patient advocacy group members, who are also leaders in the field, signed onto a consensus statement committing to working together on health equity, diversity and inclusion.

Piecemeal solutions are no longer an option. It is time for a complete transformation of the health care system to promote unbiased structures and processes to advance equitable access to quality health care for all. This includes addressing all societal, structural, financial and policy determinations that are products of and reinforce historical biases. We need to elevate the patient voice and reframe the conversation to focus on managing the health, financial, and other risks patients face over managing the financial risk to the health system.

The patient community has come together to advocate for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, or country of origin. Specifically, we commit to:

  • Promoting an inclusive, equitable, accessible, and high-quality care delivery system,
  • Advocating for equitable access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage,
  • Partnering with organizations that have a track record in addressing social determinants of health to reduce health disparities, and
  • Collaborating with the biomedical and health-services research and the health economics ecosystem to support equity in development and valuation of new and innovative treatments and services. This includes the collection and reporting of demographic factors in research to help identify and eliminate biases.

We are calling on our partners in the health ecosystem to join with us, the CDC and others in the administration and Congress to end structural racism in health care and align on a successful strategy for reform.


Randall Rutta is the CEO of the National Health Council.

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