BOSTON — A new report says racial and social inequities meant different outcomes for Blacks and Latinos during the pandemic, and it calls on the state to take steps to alleviate disparities in the health care system.
The report, produced by the Legislature’s Health Equity Task Force, concludes the coronavirus took a disproportionate toll in terms of severe sickness and death among Blacks and Latinos in Massachusetts.
Black and Latino people have died from COVID-19 at a much higher rate than whites, it concludes, as a result of deeply rooted health inequities.
To date, the virus has killed more than 17,600 people in the state.
The report cites unequal access to resources and limited “educational, social, political and economic opportunities” for minorities.
The report was authored by a 16-member panel of lawmakers, physicians and health care executives. They were assigned by the Legislature to address health disparities for underserved or underrepresented populations “based on culture, race, ethnicity, language, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation or geographic location.”
A lack of job and economic opportunities is a major contributor to inequities, according to the panel, which noted the Federal Reserve’s recent “Color of Wealth in Boston” report. The study found that median net worth, or the value of assets minus debt, is $247,500 among white households in Boston while the median net worth of Black households is only $8.
“It is inequities like this one in wealth that lead directly to inequities in health,” wrote the authors of the health equity report.
The panel made a number of recommendations to address disparities in health care, including the creation of a new cabinet-level “executive office of equity” to oversee efforts in equity, diversity and inclusion.
Panelists called for more support for anti-poverty programs such as food stamps, cash assistance and an expansion of the state’s earned income tax credit.
State leaders need to quickly strengthen local public health systems serving low-income and minority communities that were on the front lines of the pandemic, panelists said.
They also recommended a review to ensure the state’s spending of federal pandemic money is equitably distributed.
“It is often said that you can tell an entity’s priorities by looking at their budget,” the report’s authors conclude. “Let’s make it clear in the commonwealth’s budget plans, that equity is priority number one.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation says 36% of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts involve Black and Hispanic people, who represent just 19% of the state’s population. In the meantime, Black and Latino residents of Massachusetts received 16% of the COVID-19 vaccinations given in the state.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.
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