Experts dispute health care claims in the U.S report to U.N. Human Rights Council

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How great is the new health care law? For the Obama Administration, it’s worth world-wide applause; but experts back home are sitting on their hands.

In America’s first ever critique to the council of its own human rights record, the Obama administration deems as fact some questions the country fiercely debated this spring about health care — namely, that Obama’s new Affordable Care Act will rectify perceived injustices, increase access and reduce health disparities between racial groups. Yet, experts say the situation is more complex and many contend that the report is somewhat misleading.

The report claims that by “expand[ing] health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans who would otherwise lack health insurance,” America’s new health care law “significantly reduces disparities in accessing high-quality care, and includes substantial new investments in prevention and wellness activities to improve public health.”

It continues:

“[It] increases access to care for underserved populations by expanding community health centers that deliver preventive and primary care services. The law will also help our nation reduce disparities and discrimination in access to care that have contributed to poor health. For example, African Americans are 29 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non- Hispanic whites. Asian American men suffer from stomach cancer 114 percent more often than non-Hispanic white men. Hispanic women are 2.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than non-Hispanic white women. American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.2 times as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. Additionally, these racial and ethnic groups accounted for almost 70 percent of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV and AIDS in 2003.”

While the cause of health disparities between racial groups remains a source of debate in the medical community, few deny that it is an essential factor to consider when discussing rates of disease among various groups. To infer that these differences are solely the result of access is mendacious at worse, misguided at best.

Dr. John Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis, told The Daily Caller that it is deceptive to chalk up these differences wholly to access and discrimination.

“There is so much wrong with that [the report] I don’t even know where to begin,” he said. “First of all, disease patterns vary drastically from group to group but there are a lot of biological and genetic factors involved in it. For example Latinos have a greater predisposition to diabetes than the general population. In fact, the numbers are about three times the rest of the population. And black women, at every education level whether they are a high school drop out or college graduate, have twice the infant mortality rate as white women. Now we don’t know why that happens but it does happen. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with health care financing or delivery.”

Regina Santella, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University told TheDC that the disease rates described in the report could not completely be blamed on external factors, such as discrimination and access. She stressed, however, that improved access could help to improve overall outcomes.
“There’s probably a genetic component to almost all cancers or a combination of environmental and genetic components and then treatment issues and access to health care really impact the overall prognosis of survival,” she said, noting as an example that younger African American women succumb to breast cancer at higher rates than whites and that even in army studies, where everyone has equal access to care, those discrepancies remained.

Despite the questions surrounding claims that these statistics are a cause of discrimination and poor access, there are still many who continue to believe that the new Affordable Care Act is a net negative for the country’s health care system — implying that even if these ratios are a result of the current health care system, this new law will not help.

For example, Thomas Miller, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told TheDC that the Affordable Care Law will not increase access and likely will make the situation even worse. “It will provide money to well connected political organizations who get ahead of the line and for some particular classes of beneficiaries they will re-juggle the distribution,” he said, “but in terms of improving the supply and quality of health care and making it truly more affordable when you account for all the costs? No, charitably you could call it a side step or a diversion but more likely it is a step back.”

Michael F. Cannon, the Cato Institute’s director of health policy studies, echoed the sentiment, saying that while a few will be better off, the majority will suffer. “The problem is that it will raise taxes so much, soak up so many resources and put it into unproductive uses in our health care sector and halt innovation that would otherwise make health care better and more affordable that more people are going to suffer than would benefit from this law,” he said.

Coming at the issue from a different perspective, Patricia Lane, neuroscience coordinator for Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia, is hopeful that, as the report claims, the law will close the disparity gap. “That’s going to open more opportunities for us to have different venues and be able to have an equal playing field and access to care,” she said, but noted that genetics will remain a factor. “Until we can truly compare how certain medications work for us, how certain treatments work for us based on genetics then we really will not have those disparities go away.”

Dr. Robert Moffit, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, took issue with that contention, saying that putting health care in the hands of the government will only exacerbate health problems in the country.

“The expansion of public programs has nothing to say about one’s access to actual care,” he said.

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