Exacerbating the health care divide

With rates of diagnoses and death disproportionately affecting racial minorities and low-income workers, experts from the School of Arts & Sciences address how COVID-19 has further exposed already dire health outcome inequalities.

From the School of Arts & Sciences podcast In These Times, the latest episode, “Exacerbating the Health Care Divide,” experts address how COVID-19 has further exposed already dire health outcome inequalities.

Large rendering of the healthcare cross symbol with people standing both on top of and below the symbol against a background featuring the coronavirus germ floating nearby.

Political scientist Julia Lynch discusses how governmental policy drives health inequality, especially during times of crisis. Rebecca Mueller, a Ph.D. student in history and sociology of science, talks about how infectious microbes like the coronavirus can affect communities of people with genetic vulnerabilities; her research focuses on the cystic fibrosis community. And Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights and professor of Africana studies, discusses how the biological concept of race was invented as a way to justify racism and influence outcomes.

1:22: [Julia Lynch] “One thing that people usually think of when trying to understand where health disparities come from, is access to health care. Seems to make sense that health and health care would be related, but it turns out that access to health care really only accounts for about a quarter of the disparities in population health that we observe. There’s something else that’s going on.”

7:16: [Lynch] “One of the things that we know is that focusing on health behaviors very often actually makes health disparities worse because the people who are most able to receive messages about improving diet or improving behavior or the danger of smoking or whatever, those are the very same people who have [more] resources. You find that paradoxically, health education campaigns, for example, very often do tend to increase rather than reduce health disparities.”

13:06: [Rebecca Mueller] “I think that the statements that are made and that’s this pandemic about it ‘only killing people who have preexisting conditions’ are very offensive and concerning to people in the CF [cystic fibrosis] community, and essentially devalue their lives and kind of other them in a way that is kind of intensified, because many people with CF can sort of pass as healthy under a lot of circumstances. This is bringing into relief the fact that they are being advised to be more careful during the pandemic, and the national discourse is really one that revolves around whether prioritizing their vulnerability is important or not.”

18:23: [Dorothy Roberts] “Structural racism affects health outcomes because it makes people of color, especially Black people and Indigenous people or Native Americans, especially vulnerable to bad health because of the way in which our society is structured to put them in less healthy living conditions.”

20:00: [Roberts] “The biological concept of race plays into this because it was invented as a way to support and justify and manage racism as a way of governing society.”

21:00: [Roberts] “That idea that human beings are naturally divided into races and that races are biologically distinct from each other, people within races are biologically similar, was a way of promoting the false concept that this was a natural division; also a way of claiming that white people were naturally or biologically superior to all other groups of human beings, with Black people being placed at the bottom of this made-up hierarchy. The false view that human beings are naturally divided into races, serves the purpose today of convincing some people that the reason for health inequities is because of natural biological innate differences between races instead of because of structural racism.”

Listen to the podcast in full at Omnia.