CBC Forum Addresses Minority Healthcare Disparities

Every 30 seconds someone in the United States dies from heart disease. According to Clyde Yancy, incoming president of the American Heart Association, 60 percent of attendees at Wednesday’s Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) forum, Heart Matters, will die from some form of cardiovascular failure.

Socioeconomic factors are the leading cause of unequal healthcare among African-Americans. According to Congresswomen Donna Christianson, social determinants, such as income, education level and geography, have a direct correlation to quality of healthcare, health status and life expectancy.

“Healthcare is not distributed equitably. The biggest point of virtue we have is this subtle, but real, influence of bias: stereotyping and decision making. We have to find ways through education, awareness, research, science and accuracy to overcome these issues.”

The uninsured and underinsured are more likely to receive inadequate healthcare, Christianson said, and are at a higher risk of dying from serious diseases once they are diagnosed.

“The risk of heart disease and stroke is nearly 10 times higher than breast cancer in African American women. This is what’s likely to take us out,”Yancy said. “What about the rates of death? Who is likely to die when a stroke occurs? It’s very graphic, because regardless of the age group, when we have a stroke the risk of death is much more common.”

To help address the healthcare disparities Christianson, chair of the CBC Health Braintrust, helped introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act of 2007, HR3014.

Sponsored last year by members of the Tri-caucus – consisting of the CBC, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the HR3014 bill aims at eliminating racial and ethnic discrimination within the healthcare system.

“We chose to focus on the quality of cardiac care. These matters are the issues we have kept and will continue to keep at the forefront of our discussion to eliminate health disparities in the nation. We are very clear at the CBC it is our responsibility as your representatives to change the system,” Christianson said.

Lower income communities, Christianson added, are bombarded with inexpensive and readily available fast food, and have little, if any, affordable healthy food options.

Clyde, the forum’s keynote speaker, said the risk of heart disease is 50 percent higher for poor Americans then affluent Americans.

According at a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly a quarter – 24 percent – of African Americans are in poverty. Nineteen percent of African Americans are uninsured.

High blood pressure, Yancy added, has the highest prevalence in blacks, when compared to other ethnic groups anywhere in the world. Additionally, 45 percent of black women have cardiovascular disease.

“Far too many women, especially African American women – who are disproportionally more at risk than their white counterparts – fall victim to heart disease,” Christianson said. The disease “takes the life of one in four women every year.”

Christianson went on to tell the story of late Congresswoman Julia Carson whose heart disease went undiagnosed.

“Our own Julia Carson, who died in this Congress, having been full told to return to work, which happens too often when black women consistent complain of chest pain: it’s treated lightly. She was told she had indigestion, “Christianson said.

During her opening remarks, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation president, Dr. Elsie Scott said health, education and economic development are the three major focus areas of this year’s conference.

In its third year, the Center for Policy Analysis and Research Future Focus Series presented three forums Wednesday. Heart Matters: Addressing Heart Disease in the African American Community was the second forum in the series. Post-Civil Rights leadership and academic success were also discussed during the opening day of the Annual Legislative Conference.