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April 20, 2006 – Joining the efforts to reduce disparities in health care should be the business of all businesses big and small, according to Congresswoman Donna M. Christensen, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus's Health Braintrust. Christensen addressed a gathering of managed health care executives on Thursday afternoon at the Capitol Summit: Politics in Healthcare event where executives examined and discussed the challenges facing healthcare organizations today including persistent disparities in the care that ethnic minorities receive in this country.
"Businesses can help to reduce their costs if they launch efforts to reduce and eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities," Christensen said. "When employees receive inadequate or lower quality health care, costs are assumed by companies and businesses in increased rates of absenteeism or being sick at work, which results in lower rates of productivity, as well as in increased health care costs. "
Christensen applauded the group for including the issue of health disparities on their agenda. "I am hopeful that your interest and the pressures that you are under regarding the provision of health care and its increasing costs will be the impetus for the change we need not just to heal our minority populations but the entire country," she said. "Industry is coming to realize ahead of policy makers that early detection and management of some chronic and acute conditions may reduce the amount of health care needed and improve quality of life and improve outcomes." Christensen commended some businesses that have "looked at health disparities among your own employees and the costs of care and are beginning to institute programs to improve both their health and your costs."
Christensen said that it should be a matter of conscience that "in the richest, most technologically advanced and supposed humanitarian country in the world there are an estimated 100,000 annual preventable, premature, excess deaths in African Americans." Similar statistics exist in the Hispanic, Native American and Asian and Pacific Islander communities. "For years politicians, community activists, advocates and organizations have been calling for an appropriate response to such devastating but preventable disease, disability and death in communities of color," she said. "We have argued on the humanity of it, on the right and God-fearing thing to do."
Christensen pointed to the role that un-insurance and underinsurance play in the persistence of health disparities and the effect that it has had on the wider community. She pointed to the fact that many communities, including her district of the U.S. Virgin Islands have struggled to determine the fairest way to provide coverage for employees in businesses large and small. "Lack of insurance and (the) resulting poor health undermines everyone else's healthcare," she said, emphasizing that it is only through "prevention and comprehensive care for which providers are adequately compensated that the rising cost of health care will be controlled and reduced." She urged the executives to "use their corporate influence" to ensure that "wellness is within the reach of everyone living in this country."
Other speakers on the Summit's agenda included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Senator John Breaux, author Glenn Hubbard and members of the McGlaughlin Group.
(For more information contact Monique C. Watson at 202-226-7973 or Britt Weinstock at 202-226-7974).