Houston, home of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, draws many of the country’s brightest medical students and professionals as well as patients who travel from all over the world seeking life-saving care. Yet many Houstonians still face barriers in gaining access to health care, and many more suffer from poor health, with striking differences in health levels across ethnic, socioeconomic and age groups. Several factors contribute to such health disparities, including the conditions in the places where people live, learn and work. However, research shows that even when minorities have the same incomes, insurance coverage and medical conditions as whites, they receive notably poorer care.
At this event, Dayna Bowen Matthew, the William L. Matheson and Robert M. Morgenthau Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, explored strategies for reducing health disparities based on findings from her book, “Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care.”
This event was co-sponsored by the Baker Institute Center for Health and Biosciences and the Office of Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Follow @BakerInstitute on Twitter and join the conversation online with #BakerHealth.
An article about the event appeared in the Feb. 8, 2019, edition of the Baker Institute newsletter:
Justice is typically thought of as a core principle of the U.S. legal system. Yet widespread health disparities across racial and socioeconomic lines indicate that justice should also be a driving force in the nation’s health care system as well, according to research on health inequalities by University of Virginia law professor Dayna Bowen Matthew.
At a recent Center for Health and Biosciences event, Matthew shared findings from her book “Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care.” Her main thesis is that the U.S. medical system is fundamentally and persistently indifferent to the humanity of African Americans and other minorities.
To illustrate her point, Matthew shared statistics on the vast difference in health outcomes between whites and other racial groups in the U.S., even when controlling for factors like income and education. For instance, the national infant mortality rate for black children is 2.2 times higher than that of white children, while the maternal mortality rate is three to four times higher among black mothers than white women, she said.
“The remaining variable that cannot be ignored is that there’s something about being a member of a minority race, being a member of a population that experiences living as a minority in this country that affects that disparity,” Matthew said. “That’s what I call evidence of a race problem with respect to medicine.”
A just health care system, she said, is equitable — i.e., ensuring that patients get what they need in order to have an equal opportunity to be healthy — and preventative, based on the needs and perspectives of the population.
“Why should we worry about just medicine? We should worry about it because it is inhumane not to,” Matthew said. “We should worry about it because it is costly in terms of lives and dollars. We should worry about it because we can do something about it.”
Dayna Bowen Matthew, J.D., Ph.D., is the William L. Matheson and Robert M. Morgenthau Distinguished Professor of Law and the F. Palmer Weber Research Professor of Civil Liberties and Human Rights at the University of Virginia School of Law. She holds an appointment in the School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences. Matthew co-founded the Colorado Health Equity Project, a medical-legal partnership incubator aimed at removing barriers to health for low-income clients by providing legal representation, research and policy advocacy. She is the author of “Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care” (NYU Press, 2015). Matthew received an A.B. in economics from Harvard-Radcliffe College, a J.D. from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in health and behavioral sciences from the University of Colorado at Denver.