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COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact On Minority Communities

posted by AHIP

on July 20, 2020

For most of 2020, we have watched as the COVID-19 crisis has ravaged the physical and economic health of communities throughout the country. With Americans isolated in their homes and millions unemployed, the need to address food insecurity, housing instability, and social isolation is greater than ever.

Disadvantaged and minority communities are experiencing higher rates of infection and death from the disease, as well as greater economic impact because the social factors that are challenging in normal times are only amplified by a global health crisis.

According to the CDC, initial analysis of data out of New York shows that despite only making up 18% of the community, Black patients represented 33% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Nationally, the COVID Racial Tracker found that Black patients die of COVID-19 at rates far higher than their proportion of the population, NPR reported.

“The way the COVID-19 pandemic has played out in minority communities did not come out of the blue,” said Dr. Garth Graham, VP of Community Health at CVS Health during the AHIP 2020 Institute and Expo. “What drives differences in life expectancy is housing, education, and socioeconomic status overall. And that plays a direct role in what we’re seeing in the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“I think much of this comes down to the ability to socially distance,” said Michelle Jester, Executive Director of Social Determinants of Health for AHIP. “Including the ability to retain your job and work safely from home, ability to easily and safely obtain testing and treatment, ability to easily and safely run errands and purchase basic needs, ability to practice safe hygiene practices, and so on.”

“We know that disparities are often the result of structural policies and socioeconomic circumstances,” said Jester. “Earlier reports suggested that disparities were likely due to the fact that African Americans and LatinX had greater comorbidities that make them susceptible to the disease. But that could ‘place the blame’ on people rather than helping us to look more broadly at why some communities have more of those comorbidities.”

Today, health insurance providers are engaging with local health care and social service providers to address socioeconomic needs including food security, employment, and housing, during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. A recent brief from AHIP describes some of these efforts, including:

  • When food banks in New Orleans could no longer distribute food from their buildings due to social distancing guidelines, Humana deployed a team of vans to deliver food directly to families in need.
  • With millions of people out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis, CareSource is helping members find jobs by connecting them with coaching and employers that have continued to hire during the crisis.
  • In Massachusetts, Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) has worked with local and state governments to set up and operate six hotels to serve as isolation and recovery sites for homeless and marginally housed individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 but didn’t require hospital care. There, CCA provides residents with essential services, such as addiction services, housing assistance, and other community resources to address socioeconomic needs.

“It is only by addressing things like food insecurity, mental health needs, and improving access to care that we can really start turning the curve,” said Graham. “We see change when organizations step up and lead.”