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In an exclusive interview on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour with host Earl Ofari Hutchinson on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles, May 13, Garth N. Graham M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
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EOH: What impact will cuts to Medicare and Medical have on minorities?
GNG: There are 4.6 million African-Americans (12%) who depend on Medicare and 10.5 million African-Americans (27%) who depend on Medicaid, about 1 in 4 individuals. This is directly talking about the healthcare of African-American Communities. There are a lot of challenges in moving forward. What we are trying to do through health reform is work with organizations, including hospitals, etc., to come up with partnerships for patients and partnerships working together where we can make savings in some areas. In terms of patient partnerships, there is a potential for saving $10 Billion for Medicare through 2013. Through health reform we are trying to open up key preventive services for people on Medicare where patients are able to receive a yearly physical, as well as close the holes in medical prescription drugs.
EOH: What is your response to the allegation of disparities in Medicare regarding minorities?
GNG: The unequal report is very relevant today. There may be some decrease in health disparities, but there is some difference in access to orthopaedic surgeons and procedures, as well as treatment for arthritis, and some cardiovascular treatments. That is extremely relevant today. When you look at the VA, there was a recent report that showed that health disparities still persist in its health systems. It’s not just about insurance. There are more things other than insurance that produce disparities. We are looking at things we can do outside of insurance alone to help reduce health disparities. It is a multifaceted issue and requires a multifaceted approach,
EOH: What are some of the things about Medicaid that need to be looked at?
GNG: Right now there are 27 million African-Americans who rely on Medicaid in terms of having access to medical care. There is a higher number of African-Americans than Hispanics who rely on Medicaid for health care. Maintaining the integrity of Medicaid and its ability to provide some key services is going to directly impact minority communities. We have to be very clear about that. As we get into the Medicaid debate, there are people behind the numbers that are very much reliant on these health care systems.
EOH: What are the 3 major health-care needs and problems that face minority communities today?
GNG: One would be the current high rate of chronic diseases such as Diabetes, Hypertension, and Obesity in minority populations. We are seeing that many people who have one of these illnesses will have all of the above. That by far is the majority of killers of the minority groups. The second major issue is the rising rate of obesity and what goes along with it in minority children. The first is where we are now and the second is where we are going. The third major problem is access to care and coverage. Right now it is hard to attack those first two problems if we are not providing quality care as well as quality access to care for the minority population.
EOH: What is the Obama Administration proposing in terms of reforming Medicare?
GNG: A new health reform law is already taking steps that would save nearly $120 Billion from Medicare over the next 5 years. Some of the key things we are going to be doing are working with doctors and hospitals to provide high quality of care, and giving them new tools to help cut down on waste and fraud in Medicare. We will work with new public/private partnership called the Partnership for Patients that will work with hospitals and other organizations. Up to 1500 hospitals have already signed on and pledged to become part of this Partnership for Patients. That has a potential to save about $10 Billion for Medicare through 2013. We also want to work with the Independent Payment Advisory Board and lower prescription drug premiums. Through the new Health Reform Law we are working to close the “donut holes” in prescription drug coverage. Working together with folks across the board continues to be part of our priorities to move forward.
EOH: What impact would it have if Medicare were tossed back to private insurers?
GNG: There is a challenge when you put too much in the private sector, because they might lean too much towards making a profit. In some cases this is good, but when you are dealing with populations that have a higher incidence of chronic diseases, they may not be the most profitable groups, so there are concerns of people seeking just the profit and not making sure they are taking care of the population as well. Much of the concern is that we need to make sure we continue to take care of all populations.
EOH: What is your opinion of the “meat axe” cuts of Medicare?
GNG: Something really important for your audience to know is that the vast majority of people who declare bankruptcy because of medical bills, have medical insurance. That means we all are just one illness away from relying on our health care system to take care of us, not just physically, but financially. Understanding what our health system can do for us and help protect us is important for all people, not just the uninsured.