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The Insurance Gap and Minority Health Care, 1997-2001: Center for Studying Health System Change

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Gaps in access to medical care among working-age white Americans, African Americans and Latinos failed to improve between 1997 and 2001, despite a booming economy and increased national attention to narrowing and eliminating minority health disparities. Reduced access to medical care can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment and contribute to well-documented disparities in minority health. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, death rates for whites, African Americans and Latinos from many common diseases have declined during the last decade. African Americans and Latinos continue to have less access to a regular health care provider, see a doctor less often and lag behind whites in seeing specialists. The percentage of Latinos with a regular provider declined from 59.6 percent in 1997 to 55.4 percent in 2001. During the same time, the percentage of whites and African Americans with a regular care provider remained stable. Overall, one in five whites reported not seeing a doctor in the previous year, compared with two in five Latinos and one in four African Americans. Almost 28 percent of whites' most recent physician visits were to a specialist in 2001, compared with slightly over 24 percent for African Americans and 23 percent for Latinos. Ethnic and racial disparities in access among uninsured Americans are much greater than disparities among the insured. Uninsured whites' greater financial resources may explain why they have fewer problems accessing care. Eliminating disparities in minority health care will be difficult without first eliminating these gaps in minority health insurance.