Insured black women suffer same delays in breast cancer care as uninsured

Regardless of insurance status, black women have to wait twice as long as insured white women for diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, a study by the GW Cancer Institute reveals.

To researchers' surprise, an analysis of 581 breast cancer patients who were examined between 1997 and 2009 at seven hospitals and clinics in Washington, D.C., found that black insured women were diagnosed and treated just as slowly as uninsured white women (whose insurance status does correlate with quicker care).

"We thought having health insurance would even the field and that insured black women would have had the same rate of evaluation as insured white women, but that was not the case in our study," Heather Hoffman, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said a news release from the school.

These findings carry a heavier weight of disappointment as African Americans--who suffer more high blood pressure, infant mortality, breast and prostate cancer deaths and diabetes than whites--hope that health reform will help ease the disparities.

Although greater access to coverage should ameliorate black Americans' current uninsured rate of one in five, as the Congressional Budget Office has confirmed, some will still be left out.

"There'll be people who have private insurance, there'll be people who have the public program, and there'll be people who are uninsured," Claudia Fegan, MD, who works at a Chicago public health clinic, told NPR. "As long as we have that multitiered system, we will perpetuate the disparities which people of color suffer more than anyone else."

Health reform will not fix all of the system's problems or banish discrimination. "We need to determine what other barriers contribute to diagnosis and treatment delays in insured black women and all uninsured women," Hoffman offered as a takeaway of her study.

To learn more:
- read this HealthDay piece
- check out this NPR article