Even after Obamacare, minorities can’t afford health care

Being chronically sick isn’t fun; it isn’t cheap, either. More and more Americans —— especially the poor and minorities —— face debilitating costs to manage and treat chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Chronic diseases like those are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, according to the CDC. A chronic disease is one that lasts 3 months or more and can’t be cured by vaccines or medication. They include diseases like arthritis, diabetes, cancer and oral health problems, just to name a few. They afflict more than half of Americans and siphon $1 trillion a year in treatment costs, according to a study by the Milken Institute. 86 % of all health care spending in 2010 was for people with one or more chronic medical conditions.

How do those conditions, and their costs, impact people of color, particularly black, Pacific Islander and Native American folks, who not only tend to be poorer than white Americans, but are also likelier to suffer chronic diseases? Fusion decided to find out.

We know, for example, that incomes, disease rates, and mortality are all linked. Men with heart disease and an income of less than $10,000 are 2.5 times more likely to die from that disease than men with an income of $25,000 or more, according to a study published by the National Institute of Health. Poor women fare even worse; they are 3.4 times more likely to die from heart disease than women with the highest incomes.

But even that data doesn’t tell the whole story. Any way you look at the statistics, there’s a sense that America’s expensive approach to health care is failing poor people of color.

1. Even if they work, chronic illness sufferers take home less pay.

These are the annual health care costs associated with some of the most common chronic diseases.

2. The best-off Americans suffer fewer chronic illnesses.

A look at the CDC’s 2014 National Health Interview Survey reveals some of the most common chronic diseases and what populations they affect the most.


More than 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, up from the previous estimate of 26 million in 2010, according to the 2014 numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . One in four people with diabetes don’t know they have it. Another 86 million adults — more than one in three grown Americans — have prediabetes, in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes.


The number of people with asthma continues to grow. 1 in 12 people had asthma in 2009, compared with 1 in 14 in 2001, according to the American Academy of Asthma and Immunology.


Approximately 15.7 million American adults suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2014, representing about 6.7% of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Poor persons were more than twice as likely to have depression than those living at or above poverty level, according to the CDC.

And most people aren’t getting the treatment they need. Just over one-third of persons with severe depressive symptoms reported having seen a mental health professional in the last year, according to the CDC.


Heart disease, an umbrella term for heart conditions that include diseased vessels, structural problems and blood clots, is the leading cause of death for all adults in the United States. The most popular heart disease conditions include coronary artery disease and hypertension. About 70 million people have hypertension, or high blood pressure -- that’s one in three adults. African Americans have the highest rate of high blood pressure of all population groups, and tend to develop it earlier in life than others.

3. Even after the Affordable Care Act,

the poor and minorities can’t afford vital health care.

The poorer you are, the more likely you are to die from a chronic disease. For many people of color, that reality is a harsh part of daily life.

A 2015 Gallup poll asked, “Have there been times in the last 12 months when you did not have enough money to pay for the healthcare and/or medicines that your family needed?”

*This includes American Indian/Native Alaskan, Pacific Islander and anyone else who identifies as “other”