Although the Great Recession has taken an outsized toll on African-Americans and Hispanics, new research suggests that the economic downturn has forced Americans across all racial groups to equally cut back on their medical services.
After researchers at the University of Maryland analyzed more than 54,000 U.S. adults’ health care use, they found that — despite their assumptions that the demographic groups struggling the most as the result of the Great Recession would also struggle the most to access health care — the declining economy impacted all Americans’ ability to get the care they need. During the recession, the average number of doctor visits and prescription drug refills dropped about the same amount for whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. Visits to the emergency room were also essentially unchanged across all groups.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Americans across all racial and economic groups have equal access to health services. There were significant racial disparities in medical care before the Great Recession hit — for example, while whites visited the doctor an average of about 7 times a year around 2005, the average rate was closer to 5.75 for blacks and 4.5 for Latinos during that time period. African-Americans were, and still remain, more likely to be hospitalized than other groups. Earlier reports from the Census Bureau have found that 40 percent of the Americans living in poverty did not visit a doctor in 2010, and confirmed that Hispanics were the least likely group to make a trip to the doctor’s office that year.
But, as the lead researchers for the new study point out, at least the growing economic inequality between whites and racial minorities during the recent recession hasn’t widened the gulf when it comes to health care. “Although minorities bore the brunt of the recession in terms of losses in employment, income and insurance, our findings suggest that trends in [medical] use patterns were similar across race and ethnicity,” the study concludes.