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Patients of Color Feel Impact of Inflation, Patient Care Access Problems

Inflation is causing a healthcare cost problem, leaving racial health disparities in patient care access burdens and SDOH challenges.

Inflation is creating healthcare affordability problems, with more people of color than White folks saying the rising cost of healthcare is limiting patient care access, according to recent polling from NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Particularly, people are reporting challenges affording medical care and prescription drugs, stating that they cannot access necessary medical care for current illnesses.

On top of that, poll respondents cited issues affording certain necessities like housing and food. Housing and food security are two key social determinants of health directly affecting wellness and currently being targeted by healthcare organizations.

"These poll findings are a reminder that while everyone is impacted by today's inflation and economy, we're not all feeling the same pressures in the same ways," Alonzo Plough, vice president for Research and Evaluation and chief science officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, stated publicly.

"These differences are the result of policies and practices that have created fewer opportunities in some communities and we need solutions that are designed to build a more equitable future,” Plough added.

The high cost of healthcare has long been cited as a key patient care access barrier. Patients who cannot afford a copay may not go in for their annual wellness check, for a screening, or to check on a lingering issue. Consequently, those people may suffer poorer health and even costlier acute care episodes down the road.

This latest round of polling, including responses from more than 4,000 adults, showed that inflation is making things worse, especially for populations of color.

One in four American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people said they are having serious problems affording medical care or prescription drugs, followed by 22 percent of Black people who said the same. Around one in five (19 percent) of Latino people said they were having serious problems affording medical care or prescription drugs.

That all compares to just 16 percent of White people experiencing the same issues. Among Asian respondents, 14 percent said costs are problematic.

Those high costs could be linked to poorer patient access to care, the report furthered. Nineteen percent of US households with at least one person with a serious illness said they’ve struggled to find timely healthcare. Broken down by race, 35 percent of AI/AN people, 24 percent of Black households, 18 percent of Latino households, 18 percent of White households, and 10 percent of Asian households reported timely healthcare access problems.

And to make matters worse, inflation is making it harder for people to pay for other necessities, like housing and food. Housing and food security are two major social determinants of health affecting patient wellness, and with the current economy, they are becoming more prevalent issues.

Six in 10 respondents said affordable housing was a problem, with nearly three-quarters of Latinos saying the lack of affordable housing in their neighborhoods is a serious problem. Another 65 percent of Asian people, 65 percent of White people, 61 percent of Black people, and 61 percent of AI/AN people said the same.

Meanwhile, some renters are in a precarious place. Sixteen percent of Black renters, 21 percent of AI/AN renters, and 10 percent of Latino renters said they’ve been evicted or threatened with eviction in the past year. Only 9 percent and 4 percent of White and Asian renters, respectively, said the same.

Inflation is impacting food security, too, threatening the health of people across the country, but particularly folks of color. About one in four AI/AN respondents (39 percent), 32 percent of Black people, and 30 percent of Latino people said they’ve had trouble affording food and groceries.

Experts said SDOH disparities, like the ones related to food and housing found in the poll, could lead to negative health consequences.

“Even though there are many programs aimed to help families with food costs, much higher rates of Black, Latino, and Native American households currently say they are facing serious problems affording food,” Mary Findling, assistant director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “This is likely to have major immediate and longer-term health consequences for millions of families.”

Policy decisions may center on providing aid for those reporting inflation-related burdens, the researchers concluded.

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