Experts Address COVID Race Barriers
By Dianne Anderson
By now, given the extreme health crisis facing African Americans, and job loss that has thrown so many off healthcare, Narda Smith feels that her phone should be ringing nonstop to get Covered California.
The deadline looms just one week away, and she is ready and waiting for the community to take advantage of the opportunity.
If they don’t, they will pay a higher price later, both in health and money.
“We’re not overwhelmed by people who need health coverage, which I think we should be especially during this last two month period,” said Smith, who is a certified Covered California enroller and educator in collaboration with California Black Health Network.
She has 10,000 Facebook friends, but it’s quiet. She had expected much more participation.
“I put the word out that I’m enrolling. Call me and tell your friends if someone needs coverage. Nothing, I’ve enrolled a couple of people. I don’t get it,” she said.
July 31 is the last day to accept sign-ups for Covered California, which was extended due to Coronavirus. Those who decide not to sign up will most likely face a significant penalty on their taxes next year.
The Black community is experiencing tremendous health disparities, now representing about one-fourth of all deaths due to the pandemic.
From her purview, the first step to remedy unequal access to healthcare for African Americans is getting the community signed up.
She said, other than picking up the phone and asking for help, there are no problems with access, at least on the insurance side. The community is welcome to call and get help. All qualifications based on income.
There’s still time left.
“I know there are people out there that need health coverage,” she said. “They are not flocking to be enrolled through Covered California. If I could speculate I would. I’m at a loss.”
According to a Covered California study earlier this year, African Americans are overrepresented and struggling in nearly every health category. With asthma, the mortality rate among non-Hispanic black children is nearly eight times that of non-Hispanic whites. 59% of African Americans failed to receive any treatment for depression.
African Americans at 13.4% are much higher for diabetes it is in non-Hispanic Whites. The prevalence of hypertension among non-Hispanic blacks at 41% is substantially higher than among whites at 29% or Hispanics at 28%, the agency reports.
“The penalty for not having coverage the entire year will be at least $750 per adult and $375 per dependent child under 18 in the household when you file your 2020 state income tax return in 2021. A family of four that goes uninsured for the whole year would face a penalty of at least $2,250,” according to the Covered California website.
At last count, the California Department of Public Health reported that African Americans represent 6% of the state population, but nearly 10% of deaths from COVID-19, more disproportionately impacted than other racial or ethnic groups.
Medical experts from Duke University recently weighed in on a briefing of COVID-19 impact, highlighting the need to address racial disparities in healthcare.
Dr. Kevin Thomas, associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease at the Duke School of Medicine, assistant dean for underrepresented faculty development and co-director of the Duke Health Disparities Research Curriculum, covered top hindrances facing Black and Brown communities.
Millions of people that have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and historically underrepresented communities continue to be hit hard, but he said that accurate race and ethnicity data is sparse or underestimated.
One concern is raising awareness and better outreach on the importance of safety practices is needed.
He emphasized the need for access to localized testing sites, which are critical to identifying COVID in vulnerable populations, and said challenges are ubiquitous across the country. Drive-up testing has been a popular way to test people in the community, but not everyone has transportation.
More mobile testing in the community should be a goal, he said.
Some people have expressed that they can’t afford to take time off from work at the onset of symptoms, and they may wait until advanced stages show up with the virus to seek help.
“As you can imagine, that promotes some challenges as well. If know if I had to engage in public transportation, I would take pause just understanding the potential spread of infection just to go get tested if, in fact, you turn out to be negative,” he said.
Duke surgical oncologist, Dr. Oluwadamilola Fayanju, also addressed systemic barriers, such as workers having problems with testing availability to coincide with time off from work. But she said there are many reasons why fatality rates are much higher in Black and Brown communities, and within the U.S., and higher among the elderly.
Factors at play could include those that have tried to get tested, but may have been turned away for reasons connected to race bias.
In looking at diverse communities in the U.S., the U.K. and other diverse countries, she sees a strong correlation of not being a member of the majority white population with having a higher likelihood of infection, morbidity, and death.
“It tells me that it’s not just about not being white, it’s about what it means to not be white in a society that has a lot of barriers for nonwhite individuals, both systemic and individual, that makes it hard to get tested and hard to stay alive,” she said.
To sign up, call Narda Smith at 562.587.3348
Or see https://www.coveredca.com/individuals-and-families/getting-covered/special-enrollment/
For more information on the penalty, see https://www.coveredca.com/individuals-and-families/getting-covered/penalty-and-exemptions/