opinion

OPINION: America is failing black people during the coronavirus pandemic



caiuhealthupdate041420

Wipes, a mask and gloves sit on a table April 14. Photo illustration by Sarah Zygmuntowski

Preliminary data has shown black people are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. In Michigan, black people are 133% more likely to contract the virus than the overall state percentage of infected individuals.

In Chicago, black people represent 70% of the coronavirus's deaths. In the state of Louisiana, black people make up up 70% of the coronavirus's deaths despite the population only making up 32.7%. Although Indiana is 10% black, black people make up 20% of COVID-19 cases. White people make up 85% of the population but account for only 50% of cases.

Marginalized, poorer communities are being affected by the virus in ways systemic inequalities can explain. This devastating time must serve as a much-needed and overdue wakeup call to allocate more resources toward uplifting those often stuck in the cycle of systemic poverty.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy of non-Hispanic white people born in 2016 is 78.5 years. For non-Hispanic black people born the same year, the life expectancy is 74.8 years. 

There are various health disparities that can explain this difference. According to CDC data from 2013-2016, 40.5% of black men over age 20 have hypertension. This is about 5% higher than non-Hispanic white men. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, creates an increased risk for heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. Similarly, about 44% of black women have hypertension, which is 10% higher than non-Hispanic white women. 

Black people are 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured than white people, which has a stark effect on access to quality care. In 2018, the Journal of the American Heart Association found adults with high blood pressure spend $1,920 more every year than adults without high blood pressure. This is a disturbing paradox, considering black people are more likely to have this health problem but less likely to be insured.

America's healthcare system is broken, and the coronavirus pandemic is exposing the racial inequality infused in the system. This disparity does not come out of nowhere. It comes from thehistory of wealth inequalities between black and white Americans.

While the overall poverty rate in the U.S. is 11.8%, the poverty rate for black people is 20.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate for white people is just 8.1%.

There is a common inheritance of poverty and it becomes difficult to escape this cycle when not given proper resources. Living in a lower income area, children are more likely to face challenges in achieving upward mobility.

While this problem is clearly systemic, more can be done to lower the death rate of black people. Since this is a pandemic, various health care fees should be waived in low income areas.

Several health insurers have waived out-of-pocket expenses, but what about people without health insurance?

Equal access to health care could be achieved through raising taxes on the wealthy or implementing affordable health care policies for low-income people. Ideally, the U.S. would be a country where people do not have to worry if they will live or die depending on their ability to be insured.

America’s health care system is failing black people. The only way to protect black people from times like this is to make policy changes that can ease systemic inequalities brought on by a history of racial and social inequalities.

Jaclyn Ferguson (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and African American studies. She is the secretary of the National Association of Black Journalists at IU.

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