A 2021 report from The Commonwealth Fund called Achieving Racial and Ethnic Equity in U.S. Health Care confirmed what many have known, there are troubling racial disparities in health outcomes across the United States, especially for those in Black communities. The report has Wisconsin ranked low in comparison to others when it comes to various health outcomes. Out of the 38 states that even had data about health care access for Black residents, Wisconsin’s overall health care system was ranked at 32. The report states how policy choices made by all levels of government throughout many decades have created structural economic suppression, unequal educational access, and residential segregation, as well as environmental inequalities.
All of these factors contribute to worse health outcomes for Black Americans. This does not even take into account how the record high inflation experienced so far in 2022 has placed further economic burdens for Black households – who often bear the brunt of economic fallout. President Biden in a White House press release explains how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that was recently signed into law will help him keep his promise to Black residents like those in Wisconsin. The bill will supposedly help by lowering prescription drugs for Black Medicare beneficiaries who are more likely to have trouble affording medications, as well as not having needed prescriptions filled due to cost.
It would also address the health care cost issue for many Black people who often fall into the Medicaid coverage gap and end up locked out of health care coverage due to their state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. Finally, it would lower energy costs and create new jobs while tackling the climate crisis as well as environmental injustices which disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. The IRA is set to do a lot, but do these provisions truly deliver on Biden’s promise to Black Americans? AFRO News decided to get the perspective of both LaTanya Brown-Richardson, professor of economics and director of the Howard University Honors Program, and Gina McCarthy, White House Climate Advisor to see if the bill’s provisions have substance for Black communities.
McCarthy reiterates how the bill will save Black families money, create more jobs, and make clean electric energy sources more affordable. She also explains that various provisions will contribute to environmental justice since, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Black communities are often more exposed to pollutants in the air which leads to chronic health problems from asthma, lung disease, cancer, and COVID-19. Professor Brown-Robinson also acknowledged the climate justice aspect of the bill but also focused on how the act will help release some of the burdens of health care expenses, which have disproportionately affected Black recipients. However, she does emphasize the importance of addressing other significant financial obstacles in Black communities.
Brown-Robertson states: “The Inflation Reduction Act is moving in the right direction by addressing immediate and long-term health care and environmental cost-related issues that have plagued the Black community for years, however, more needs to be done to assist the overall financial hardships that many Black households face, such as student debt and significant housing costs.” In the days since signing the IRA, President Biden set forth a plan to forgive $10,000 in student loans, and as much as $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. But whether it is enough to change the everyday lives of many struggling Black communities remains to be seen.