Lawmakers, organizers discuss State of Black Georgia Health Report

Local lawmakers and organizers gathered Monday to deliver the State of Black Georgia Health Report for 2023.
Published: Apr. 10, 2023 at 1:37 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 10, 2023 at 5:52 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Local lawmakers and organizers gathered Monday to deliver the State of Black Georgia Health Report for 2023.

The report is meant to address healthcare disparities among Georgia’s Black residents by gauging the level of access to quality healthcare, health planning, and improved health outcomes in the state.

Black Georgians experience vast disparities in illness and access to healthcare compared to their white neighbors. For example, 44 Black patients out of every 100,000 die from breast cancer in Atlanta compared to 20 per 100,000 White women.

The same gap exists for men with prostate cancer: 50 Black patients out of 100,000 die compared to 19 out of every 100,000 white patients according to the National Cancer Institute.

“Whether it’s cancer, pneumonia, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, we certainly see a disproportionate share of burdens of those conditions being on people of color, particularly Black folks,” said Kathryn Lawler, CEO of Atlanta-based Mercy Care.

The disparities, perhaps not surprisingly, are grouped geographically with neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Black and Hispanics suffering more illness.

45% of Mercy Care patients are Black and Lawler says where patients are has a lot to do with their ability to get care. Neighborhoods that have seen historic disinvestment are farther away from hospitals and doctor’s offices, and because of that, marginalized patients don’t get care early or often enough.

Mercy Care is currently in the process of adding 270 units of affordable housing right next to their downtown clinic – something they believe they are the first in Atlanta to do. The model is simple: move healthcare closer to those who need it, or move people who need healthcare closer to it.

“It is really hard to help someone get healthy if they’re having to move around if they’re living with other folks in an unstable situation, or of course the worst-case scenario, experiencing homelessness,” said Lawler.

On Monday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said much of the issue also has to do with lack of access to insurance. Georgia has been a state reluctant to accept federal Medicaid dollars, even as the state scales back access to the healthcare program. Becerra openly disagreed with the state’s lack of action on Monday.

“The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand access to healthcare through Medicaid – we would pay most of it, states would pay part of it, but the federal government would pay most of it under Medicaid,” he said. “If a state says it’s going to take our federal tax dollars, your tax dollars, that it’s doing healthcare, if it wants to do other things, that’s fine but we want to see improved healthcare at the end of the day.”

Becerra also touted federal programs to bolster the nation’s 988 mental health crisis hotline, saying the line has seen “dramatic increases” in calls and especially texts to the system. He also noted the 1,000 graduate medical education slots the federal government opened up with the intention of placing future doctors in rural and low-income areas that desperately need medical personnel.

“Inequity is intentional,” said Becerra. “Therefore, equity must also be intentional.”

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