Apr 19, 2022 - Axios Events

Morehouse official: Pandemic "shined a light" on failure to address racial inequities in health care

Axios event

Axios Race and Justice reporter Russell Contreras interviews Morehouse School of Medicine President and CEO Valerie Montgomery Rice Photo: Axios Events

The COVID-19 pandemic "shined a light" on health care disparities that have persisted through centuries despite landmark policies aimed at addressing them, Morehouse School of Medicine President and CEO Valerie Montgomery Rice told Axios at an event Tuesday.

Why it matters: Black and Hispanic Americans have consistently seen higher coronavirus case rates than their white counterparts during the pandemic. Other metrics like vaccination rates have also shown a lag.

Laws like the Medicare and Medicaid Act, signed in 1965, and the Affordable Care Act which was signed in 2010 aimed at least partly to reduce disparities in access to care.

  • Yes, but: "We never have dealt with the real issue that undermines these health inequities. We've never dealt with the social determinants that influences people's access to care," Rice said Tuesday.
  • "We never dealt with the policies that undergird why people and their outcomes are determined by their geography or their zip code. We've never dealt with the social issues around racism and racial injustices that have led to health inequities."

The bottom line: Rice said the pandemic highlighted those policy failures, while COVID-19's rapid spread "did not pay respect to people's person in place."

  • "[I]t shined a light on the fact that if people were in situations where they couldn't socially distance or people were in occupations that allowed them to have increased exposure to this virus, they ended up with the disease."

The backdrop: The U.S. government said as far back as 2020 that Black people, Native Americans and Hispanics faced a higher threat of suffering from more serious illness from the virus due to chronic health conditions and the effects of economic inequality

"[W]e saw that because of the chronic diseases of diabetes and hypertension and heart disease that are vascular in nature. And this virus infected the vasculature that those persons who were more susceptible were those people who had those diseases. And unfortunately, those were the chronic illnesses that lead to health disparities, particularly in African Americans."
— Valerie Montgomery Rice during an Axios event Tuesday
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