Doctor fights health care inequity


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 10:37 p.m.

Access to quality health care is not the same for all Americans. Even when all other factors are equal - same insurance, status, income, education and health condition - a member of a racial or ethnic minority is less likely to receive first-rate care.

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Graham

That was the message Dr. Garth Graham brought to the University of Florida on Wednesday.

Graham's lecture is the first of a series of talks focusing on health care access, quality and safety instituted by UF College of Medicine Dean Bruce Kone.

In introducing Graham, Kone told the audience, "Health care is elitist. It favors those on top of the heap, but good health should be accessible to our entire population."

Graham told the group that the timing for his talk could not be better.

"Health care is a hot political topic with the American public, right up there with the state of the economy," he said.

Graham notes that by the year 2030, racial and ethnic minorities will make up 40 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, they will represent the majority. Today, however, the data shows that minorities suffer disproportionately from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and HIV/AIDS; experience a lower quality of health care service delivery, and are less likely to receive routine medical services.

Graham is a national leader in health disparities policy. He serves as deputy assistant secretary for minority health in the Office of Minority Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

He earned his doctorate from the Yale School of Medicine, and also holds a master's degree in public health from Yale. He is currently on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.

Graham warned the physicians, scientists and academics in the audience at the McKnight Brain Institute that fixing the health care system was a team sport, with five major players. Those are the federal government, private insurers, the pharmaceutical industry, the patient population, and the academic and provider community.

"Each of you must take on the onus of responsibility," Graham said, adding that his father had taught him "that means you are responsible, whether you believe it or not."

Graham said that racial disparities in health care are a local phenomenon. In some cases, people receive unequal treatment within a given hospital or from a particular provider. In others, the treatment is unequal because of where people live.

"A lot of this is geography," Graham said, noting that there were large pockets of the country - the Deep South and Mississippi River valley, for example - where life expectancy rates are "frightful."

"Where people live matters even more than their racial or ethnic background," he noted.

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