Health Care: What Will Obama Do Next?

As we count down to a second term, a look at his record on addressing racial health disparities.

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(The Root) — Between now and the inauguration on Jan. 21, The Root will be taking a daily look at the president’s record on a number of policy issues, including his first-term accomplishments and what many Americans hope to see him accomplish in a second term. Today: Addressing health disparities and African Americans’ health care needs. See previous postings in this series here.

Background: In 2004, the Sullivan Commission on Diversity in the Healthcare Workforce found that “the civil rights movement of the 1960s ended the more visible racial and ethnic barriers, but it did not eliminate entrenched patterns of inequality in healthcare, which remain the unfinished business of the civil rights movement.” Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher told Crisis magazine at the time that the health disparities that existed were a matter of life and death and a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.

Fast-forward a decade and not much has changed.

Nearly 50 percent of African Americans suffer from some type of chronic disease — including diabetes and certain cancers — compared to 39 percent of the general population. The life expectancy of African Americans is five years less than that of whites due to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Blacks have a higher prevalence of high blood pressure or hypertension than any other group. African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes than whites and more likely to be overweight and obese than their white counterparts.

Even the nation’s first black president has taken note of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as the striking health disparities between African Americans and other racial groups.

“We know that even as spiraling health care costs crush families of all races, African Americans are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about anyone else,” President Obama said in July 2009.

Currently an estimated 20 percent of African Americans are uninsured (pdf), contributing to the growing health disparities that exist in America’s communities. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced legislation to create an annual report on health disparities.

“Every person,” said Davis, “should have access to high quality comprehensive health care that is affordable to them without regard to their ability to pay.”

First-term accomplishments: President Obama signed the historic Affordable Health Care Act in 2010, which extended health care coverage to 7 million African Americans.