The Disturbing Problem Plaguing 18 Million High-Risk Americans

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequality issues in our healthcare system.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted people of all ages, races, and genders, but it has hit certain groups of Americans harder than others. People who are immunocompromised, older, or have breathing difficulties—among other criteria—are at higher risk for severe cases. And of those individuals at high risk of coronavirus, researchers have determined that 18.2 million are either uninsured or underinsured.

A recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine by researchers at Harvard Medical School and CUNY's Hunter College found that the amount of adults in groups determined to be high-risk for COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) who are also underinsured or not insured at all greatly outnumbers earlier estimates. (One analysis cited by the study came up with just 5.7 million uninsured.) The study defines individuals with "inadequate insurance" as having insurance, but "having skipped a doctor visit within the last year because of cost."

Coronavirus patient in hospital

Researchers also found stark disparities in the amount of underinsured or uninsured high-risk adults when it comes to location, level of income, and race, demonstrating how inequality issues within the U.S. healthcare system are being exacerbated by the pandemic. "Blacks, Native Americans, lower-income individuals of all races/ethnicities, and those residing in rural areas or in states that had not expanded Medicaid were doubly disadvantaged," the study states. "They were both more likely to be at high risk of severe COVID-19 and to lack adequate coverage." The study also determined that, compared to white people, "Blacks were 42 percent and Native Americans 90 percent more likely to be at risk for severe COVID-19, and high-risk persons from those racial groups were 51 percent and 53 percent more likely to have inadequate coverage compared to high-risk whites."

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This study proves what health care workers have already seen—that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting minority and low-income communities. "The pandemic is laying bare the lethal inequality of American society and American health care," the study's lead author Adam Gaffney, pulmonary and critical care doctor at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. "Our ICU has been flooded with poor and minority patients; having COVID-19 is scary enough without worrying that you'll be bankrupted by medical bills."

With health insurance being primarily tied to employment in this country, growing unemployment numbers mean more uninsured Americans. While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made federal funds available for the insufficiently insured to be tested and treated for coronavirus, the American Medical Association (AMA) is calling on the federal government to do more, including offering employers assistance to maintain employee health benefits, even if they've lost revenue. And for more on how COVID-19 is affecting different demographics, here's The Shocking Reason Older Men Are at an Even Higher Risk for Coronavirus.

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Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
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